Roasted Almond Pesto and Almost Settled

After a couple weeks or so of disarray, chaos, and sweat (why so humid here?!) we finally have an apartment that is starting to feel settled in. The textbooks are lining the shelf just inches above my head, the notebooks have been cracked open, the periodic table of elements shower curtain has assumed its rightful place, and Sebastien is happily doing some preemptive calculus in his little office corner. On the menu for me this semester, there is way-too-much physics, calculus, nutrition fundamentals, and management theories. Some of my courses from two years of microbiology transferred, but there is still a solid couple of semesters to catch up on. Looking like a heavy one, and for entering a dietetics program, I am actually only in one singular nutrition course for the whole year! Well, I will have to make the most of that one call to food. Shouldn’t be hard, seeing as my desk is backing onto my kitchen…

Living in Montreal, despite the unaccustomed humidity, has continued to show us new things everyday. My poor, swollen feet are adjusting to the volume of walking associated with city life, which has been a great way to see the city. In the first few weeks, we’ve made sure we do a couple of sightseeing things before the work volume gets too crazy. We spent a really nice afternoon up Mont-Royal, checking out the view of Montreal and getting some moderate exercise by walking while ~200 people sprinted past us up the stairs for their weekend workout. We watched a street show in Vieux-Montreal, which was a funny mix of comedy, music, and audience participation. We watched an inordinate number of firework shows from our deck, which look pretty magical over the lights of the city. We have also become regulars (aka we’ve gone thrice in three weeks, we’ll see if it turns out regular!) at Jean-Talon Market. For all avid market goers, you’ve probably heard of Jean-Talon. I was looking at stalls and pictures and blog posts and articles about the market for the months leading up to my move here, so the build up was quite significant. Despite my high expectations, Jean-Talon delivers.

To get to Jean-Talon, we can take the BIXI bikes, which are completely awesome. If you haven’t heard what BIXI is, it’s a bicycle service that has seemingly hundreds of stops around the city, where you can pay for a year pass and get a little key that you insert into the bike, then the bike pops free of it’s lock. You now have a forty minute turn to bike to your destination, where you can just insert the bike into a free lock. This is so great, because you don’t have to worry about getting your bike/tires/seat stolen while you are off somewhere, and you can bike to the beautiful Jean-Talon market, then take the subway home when you are loaded down with bags.

Now, the Jean-Talon market itself is abundant. That is definitely the word I would use to sum it up. There are 9 butcher shops, 4 cheese stalls, 9 food services, and ~64 fruit/vegetable stalls (literally, I counted). The vegetable stalls include some of the best corn I’ve ever had, massive bags of carrots, bouquets of lavender, beautiful heritage tomatoes, hundreds of apples, and huge bundles of basil for $5. The butcher shops are our new source for organic anti-biotic free meat, and every week we get a whole chicken, a couple of sausages, and then an optional third meat (so far: pork tenderloin, chorizo, and this week’s pork shoulder roast). We load up on fresh veggies, maple syrup, and finish off with a popsicle or samosa for the road. It’s a great Sunday morning outing, which is followed by a big brunch, lots of coffee, a stint of homework, then food prep for the week and a roast chicken dinner. For now, while the weather is nice, Sunday mornings for me consist of sitting on the deck with my cup of chai and business textbook while Sebastien bikes around with the McGill bike club. All-in-all, Sunday is fast becoming my favourite day of the week.

Now, in time I will give you my recipe for roast chicken (hint: it’s part of a certain series I’m running…), but for now I’m going to tell you exactly what I did with that $5 bundle of basil, because you bet that was the first thing I bought. The containers of basil you buy from the supermarket are so dinky, so when I saw these guys at the market, my brain was screaming PESTO, PESTO! I mean, who doesn’t love pesto? It’s green goodness that is great spread on sandwiches, in salad dressing, on pasta, in quiche, rubbed on chicken, and pretty much everywhere else. I think it smells so good, if it was socially acceptable I would aspire to design a pesto perfume. The only thing that makes me cringe about pesto is the pine nuts. Don’t get me wrong, pine nuts are totally delicious (world’s best mac n’ cheese topping), but they are freeze-the-bank call-long-distance-to-bemoan-about-it-with-your-mother expensive. Crazy expensive! For the volume of pesto I enjoy, I simply can’t justify the pine nut cost (plus we are not sure if Sebastien is allergic to them, so why take the risk), so I do the sensible thing: I substitute roasted almonds. Roasted properly, until the skin is crackle-y and the aroma fills the house. These little beauties make great substitutes, and I promise will not hinder your product at all. If you can afford the pine nuts, of course I would encourage you to use them, because they are just delicious. However, this is kind of a student version of pesto, so the budget has to be cut somewhere!

So, here is my modified pesto recipe! Make it while the basil is still a-plenty.

Roasted Almond Pesto
This recipe is for 2 cups of basil, which I thought was a pretty reasonable amount that a person would buy. It doubles, triples, and halves well, so adjust to your amount of basil!

1/2 c almonds
2 c fresh basil, packed
1/2 c finely grated romano cheese
1/2 c olive oil
4 cloves of garlic

1) First of all, it is very important to roast the almonds to get a lot of flavour out of them. This can be done two different ways: in the oven, or on the stove top. On the stove top, heat a bit of oil in a cast iron skillet OR heat up a dry non-stick pan, and add the almonds. Toast them on medium heat until they are fragrant and the skins begins to crackle. For the oven method, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and roast them 10-15 minutes, until they are fragrant, crunchy, and crackling!

2) Next step is to thoroughly clean your basil! Often when you get basil from the market, the roots are still attached or there’s a dirt plug, so making sure the dirt is all removed will prevent that crunchy rock texture that no one wants in their basil. Fill a large pot with water and place all the basil inside so it gets in every nook and cranny, and rinse until the water runs off clean. Dry (don’t worry about getting it totally dry, your going to mash it up anyways).
3) Now it’s food processor time!! If you are lucky enough to have one, go over and kiss it then proceed to make pesto with ease by first adding the almonds and pulsing until they are fine. Then add your basil and chop it right up. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the olive oil, and pulse until it looks smooth and free of garlic/almond chunks. Add the oil in a drizzle through the top until it’s smooth and beautiful and pesto-y. If you have a blender, like me, you are going to do the same thing in the same order, but make sure to stop and stir the blender often, for it is much easier to miss a large piece of garlic or almond in the blender. It works fine, just make sure you check the consistency often!


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