Monday, June 16, 2008

weekend hollyhock pestos

I love our neighbourhood for a number of reasons. One, it's within walking distance of downtown, and a growing farmer's market. Two, it's close to bike paths that run for kilometers along a canal and a river, and in late April/early May, these pathways are abloom with all colors of tulips. Three, we have one of the best playgrounds in the city within four blocks of our house (and that's not just my opinion). It too is surrounded by lots of green space. And finally, living here, I feel a real sense of community. I know more of my neighbours in this area than I ever did living for 17 years in the house I grew up in. Maybe having two little kids and a very social cat helps people get to know us - but still, there is something special about being able to walk down the street on a regular basis and stop and talk to one, two or more of your neighbours as you walk by. And I love the diversity of the people who live in the community too.

This weekend, our neighbour down the street (I'll call her the Flower Lady) hosted a block party and asked everyone to bring a little something. The Flower Lady is one of the special people in our lives who can completely engage the Bean in long discussions (long for a three year old)-usually about bugs and flowers. Her smiles are genuine and her laugh is infectious. The Bean likes her a lot and so do we.

Just that week, I'd had a wonderful sundried tomato pesto made with sunflower seeds at my sister's house. She served it as a spread with a baguette, some cream cheese and baby spinach. It was decadent, earthy rich and meaty, and easy, so I knew I had to make it again for the party. I also chose a pesto made with cilantro, lime and sesame seeds to use up the last of our fresh cilantro. Both of these pestos come from Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Mind, Body and Soil, a book I can't say enough about since the recipes use fresh, easy to find ingredients, are easy to make and--most importantly--very very good.

Because it was light and refreshing, the cilantro pesto disappeared especially quickly. I'm sharing both recipes here so I can spread the gospel of Hollyhock goodness.

PS Although I served these as spreads with crackers, they are also suitable to mix in with pasta (soba noodles and sesame cilantro pesto anyone?). Since I didn't get a chance to make a pasta dish this week for dinner, I am going to cheat a little and make this my submission to Presto Pasta Nights. Hopefully Ruth, the gracious host and founder of PPN, won't mind.

Sundried Tomato Pesto with Sunflower Seeds
makes 4 cups

Note: the original recipe calls for walnuts in place of the seeds, but I was told by my sister that using sunflower seeds makes it nut-free. You can also use sundried tomatoes that are not oil-packed, but they need to be soaked for 20 minutes in water before using them.

1 240 mL jar (about 4 oz) of oil-packed sundried tomatoes
3/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp lemon zest
2 tsp crushed garlic (I used 2 medium sized cloves)
1 tsp black pepper
a dash of hot pepper sauce
3/4 cup water (if you soak your sun dried tomatoes, use that water)
1 1/2 cups of toasted sunflower seeds

Put all of the ingredients except for the seeds in a food processor or blender and process until it becomes a thick paste. Add the seeds and process until you get the texture you like. Thin the pesto with additional water if needed.

Cilantro Pesto with Sesame and Lime
makes 2 cups

(I omitted the 1/2 a seeded and minced jalapeno. The cookbook also includes a couple of variations, but I prefer the sesame seeds.

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup, packed fresh cilantro
2 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic (I used 3 good sized cloves)
3/4 cup toasted and ground sesame seeds

juice of two limes
salt to taste

In a food processor, pulse the olive oil, cilantro, ginger, garlic until blended. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the sesame seeds, lime juice and salt. Serve immediately.


Ruth Daniels said...

Lovely post. I lived in Ottawa years ago when my girls were little and it truly was the best city to live in to raise children and still be a grownup and make fantastic grownup friends.

I've never been able to replicate that anywhere else I've lived.

As for the pestos...they are truly awesome. Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights. These two will definitely be added to my favorites!hwnzr

Ruth Daniels said...

oops, somehow I typed the verification code in the comment don't try to decipher! ;-)

Lysy said...

I saw this on the presto pasta roundup and had to come and have a look and it sounded so good! I like the idea of seeds instead of nuts - will have to try it out!

Olga Berman said...

wow, cilantro and sesame seeds are such a great idea! I might make a version of it with cilantro and sunflower seeds :)

avra said...

Apparently my most popular post so far ;-)

Ruth - it was nice to discover you lived in Ottawa too. I'm curious to know more.

Lysy - hope you liked it when you tried it!

Olga - Sunflower seeds is one of the variations suggested. The other is toasted pine nuts (the old standby)

laura004 said...

pesto good...

I made the sun dried tomato pesto tonight and it turned out very well. My little guy ( one year old) liked it very much. Although he used it to stick a cracker to his chest (shirtless summer dining). After playing with the texture for a little while he proceeded to eat it, and another, and another.

I had neither enough sunflower seeds nor pine nuts to use them exclusively so I combined what I had left of the two. (It was exactly a cup and a half)

I will try the other one sometime soon. I am the only cilantro lover in my house so I wonder how long it will keep or if it freezes well. ??

Avra said...

Thanks for the great story about your little guy. My little Boo also wolfs it down. As for the cilantro pesto - I bet if you went beyond your household and offered it to other friends and family, you'd definitely have takers!