Pesto Rosso

August 9, 2010

Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.
~Pablo Picasso

We are born voyeurs of sorts. We unabashedly crave the look-see.

Although the nervous system works as a wholly (though less than flawless) integrated entity, some cerebral areas are more focused on certain functions. So, researchers can distinguish the centers responsible for vision, hearing, touch, olfaction, taste and so forth.

The human cerebral cortex is notorious for its depth, irregularity and variability from one individual to the next. Anatomically minute, the cerebral cortex is only about 3-4 mm thick. Yet, it plays a pivotal role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness.

Part of the cerebral cortex, the occipital lobe is located behind the parietal area, separated from the cerebellum right at the back of the skull. The smallest of all lobes, the primary business of this gray matter is visual perception and processing—differentiating colors, shapes, images. In particular, the Peristriate region of the occipital lobe is involved in visual and spatial processing, demarcation of movement and color discrimination.

Human color sensitivity is tripartite. Along with closely related primates and marsupials, we possess three independent channels for conveying color information, derived from three different optic cone types. There are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. They are the three pigment colors that cannot be made by mixing other hues and are mixed to create all other colors and tints. The number derives from the three types of color-discriminating receptor cells, called cone cells, in the human retina. The three cone varities have broadly overlapping ranges of sensitivity, and are designated according to the location of their peak sensitivities in the long, medium and short wavelengths of the color spectrum.

According to the subtractive theory of color, color is produced by pigment or combinations of pigment. Secondary colors are made by mixing two primary colors together, e.g., red and yellow to get orange. Tertiary colors are combinations of primary and secondary colors.

There are seven colors defining wavelengths of visible light: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The color red is evoked by light consisting predominantly of the longest wavelengths of light discernible by the human eye and brain.

Red — a color that connotes anger, blood, embarassment, stop, ardor, shame, ferocity, courage, danger, frustration guilt, fire, hate, eroticism, hell, passion, sex, sin, debt.

Some plants, like tomatoes, are often colored by forms of carotenoids which are red pigments that were originally developed to assist photosynthesis.

SUNDRIED TOMATO PESTO

4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, chopped
6 T olive oil

1 C oil packed dried tomatoes, drained well
1/4 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
1/4 C pine nuts, roughly chopped
1/3 C fresh basil leaves
1 t balsamic vinegar

In a medium heavy saucepan sauté garlic in olive oil over meduim heat, stirring, until softened. Do not brown. Set aside and allow to cool. By pulsing, purée sun dried tomatoes, parmigiano reggiano, pine nuts, basil, vinegar, garlic and oil in a food processor fitted with the knife blade until pesto becomes a smooth paste.

OVEN ROASTED TOMATO PESTO

2 1/2 lbs cherry tomatoes (preferably heirloom), halved
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

1/2 C pine nuts
6 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 C total fresh basil leaves, chopped
4 T extra virgin olive oil divided
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 T balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 250 F

Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil and place on an aluminum foil covered baking sheet, cut side up. Roast until slightly shriveled and wrinkly on the outside and juicy on the inside, about 2 1/2-3 hours. The time will vary depending on tomato size and ripeness. Set aside and allow to cool.

Meanwhile in a small dry skillet, toast the pine nuts until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool. Using the same skillet, sauté the garlic in olive oil until golden.

In a food processor fitted with a metal knife, add the oven roasted tomatoes, pine nuts, garlic, basil and olive oil. Pulse a few times until mixture is well combined. Scrape down the sides and then add the parmigiano reggiano and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and pulse the mixture to a paste.

The flute is not an instrument that has a good moral effect; it is too exciting.
~Aristotle

Flautas (derived from Spanish for “flute”) are simply made by tightly wrapping a tortilla around a savory filling and then deep frying the tightly formed cylinder. Now, a soft debate exists about differentiating a classic flauta from a taquito…with some asserting that flautas are made with larger (hence longer) flour tortillas while standard taquitos are made with smaller (hence shorter) corn tortillas. Others believe the flauta v. taquito nomenclature itself is blurred and has little to do with the finished product. For example, flautas are often cooked using corn and flour tortillas. With all due respect to the food gods and as often holds true in life, names seem to end in a distinction without a difference.

With a touch of shame, I do admit to some diversion. Customarily, flautas (or taquitos) are made with shredded chicken, so this recipe veers some. But, should you wish to go traditional—simply use chicken from succulent roasted, braised or chicken-rescued-from-broth pulled into shreds and shards for the filling.

FLAUTAS WITH SALSA VERDE & SALSA ROJA

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Dried oregano

Zest of 1 lime
1/2 C fresh lime juice
4 fresh plump garlic cloves, halved and crushed
2 jalepeño chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced or finely minced
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 cinnamon stick, halved
Cilantro, roughly chopped

Corn torillas
Canola oil, for cooking

Season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper and oregano. Combine 8 remaining marinade ingredients in a bowl and then toss well with chicken in a heavy plastic bag. Seal well and place in refrigerator overnight.

Salsa Verde (Green Salsa)

1 pound tomatillos (10-12 medium), husked and rinsed
8 large garlic cloves, peels left on
1-2 jalepeño chiles, stemmed
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 C cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea salt

Preheat broiler

Spread tomatillos, garlic, onions and chiles on a baking sheet and put under the broiler. Broil for about 5 minutes, until you see blackened, charred spots on the vegetables. Flip them over and roast until they become darkened, juicy, and soft.
Transfer these roasted ingredients and some of the cilantro into a food processor, and blend into a coarse purée. Add a little bit of water if necessary to attain your desired consistency. Add salt to taste, and the rest of the cilantro leaves.

Salsa Roja (Red Salsa)

4 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 pound (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Sea salt
Sugar or honey, about 1/2 teaspoon (optional)

Preheat broiler

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chiles, stirring for 1 minute, until they are very aromatic. Take care not to overcook as they can become bitter. Transfer to a bowl, cover with hot water and rehydrate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roast the tomatillos and garlic on a baking sheet under a hot broiler until the tomatillos are soft, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes per side, and the garlics are soft. Cool, remove skins from garlics.

Drain the chiles well and add to the tomatillos and garlic, then transfer the ingredients to a blender or food processor. Blend into a coarse purée, then scrape into a serving dish. If necessary, during the blending process stir in enough water to attain desired consistency. Season with salt to your liking.

Flautas

Bring chicken in marinade to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and pound with a mallet until thin. In a heavy skillet, saute the chicken thighs for only a couple of minutes per side until just medium rare, then thinly slice.

Heat heavy, deep skillet with canola oil 2″ deep. Once hot (about 375 F) add corn tortilla for a few seconds to soften and then drain on paper towels. Lay in thinly sliced chicken, roll and secure with with a toothpick. Gently place back into the hot oil and cook until light golden brown; turn and finish cooking. Let cool some and remove toothpicks. Serve with salsa verde, salsa roja and crema or sour cream–all in separate bowls—or spread artfully on an open plate topped with the flautas that are sprinkled with crumbled queso fresco.