Friday, August 1, 2014

Arugula Pesto (Pesto di Rucola)

"Hi..." A mousy-haired woman clutching a clipboard gingerly approaches from a distance as I browse cutting boards at the historic St. Lawrence Market, downtown Toronto. I have always dreamed of owning a fancy wooden board, but the mere thought of Hong Kong's humidity invariably extinguishes this dream almost as fast as it comes.

The young woman's expression shows faint signs of desperation mixed with glimmers of hope, as if she understood what is going through my mind.
"Would you happen to be a home cook?"

Curious, taken by surprise, I pause for a split second, my eyes squinting and discreetly scanning the woman. A sales rep marketing some cookware membership? A surveryor perhaps? 

"Umm... well, I sure love to cook." I respond as cheerily as I can muster while maintaining distance. The poor woman appears to have been trying her luck for hours without much success.

"Oh!! That's awesome!" Her eyes lighting up, she exclaims as she throws her arms up in glee, inhales, and continues, "well, if you're not already aware, Jamie Oliver is launching a television reality series this fall called Pressure Cooker, it's going to be based in Toronto! And I'm actually searching for..."

Wait. Jamie Oliver?! A reality show? This is probably the next best thing ever since a model agency scout stopped me on the streets of L.A. - only to hand my buddy Pablo a business card many years back. Pablo is tall, chiseled, handsome. Still is.  

The historical St. Lawrence Market, Toronto
I am leaving Toronto the day after. I must interrupt this woman before hope overbuilds to avert the anticlimactic crash.
"Damn... but I don't live in Toronto!"
As expected, the woman's excitement deflates almost instantaneously, hope draining out of her like the thought of humidity in Hong Kong does to me.
"Well... go on," I urge, "I want to hear about this series!"

Set to debut in fall 2014, Pressure Cooker will see celebrity chefs paired with home cooks who must use limited ingredients to cook tasty meals against the clock, bringing the contestants' skills and creativity to test as they would at home cooking up healthy meals with only what they have on hand.

Come to think of it, that's what I do a lot of times. I use what is available in my pantry while sparing a trip to the groceries as much as possible, and put together meals that are both healthy and fun.

The sheer thought of featuring in reality TV shoulder to shoulder with Jamie Oliver makes me giddy, even though I know without a doubt that I stand zero chance in making past auditions had I been eligible. I will be that Asian dude who cracks under pressure and drops everything in a panic (over-the-top reality drama - I reckon that's not necessarily a bad thing for the producers?).
Snapping back to reality... I stare inside my fridge, and there sits a half bag of rocket leaves waiting impatiently. Pesto di rucola comes to mind. I have been missing homemade pesto terribly, since my basil plant has been rather dreary lately. Arugula pesto offers up a slightly more pungent than sweet taste but is equal in versatility, dressing up anything from pasta to chicken wraps to prawns.

The good news is that almost all nuts work spectacularly for pesto - especially almonds, cashews, and walnuts - so worry not about pine nuts, which are considerably costly.

To prepare...
2 cups of packed arugula leaves
1/2 cup of cashew nuts, toasted
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 
1/2 cup Pecorino cheese, or Parmesan
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice 
Salt and pepper
Combine the arugula, nuts, garlic, cheese, and olive oil in the blender and pulse until smooth. Add more olive oil if mixture clogs.

Test flavor and adjust ingredients accordingly. Add salt and pepper to taste, and fresh squeezed lemon juice to brighten up the pesto.  
Get creative enjoying the pesto!
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