An old student just strutted into my kitchen last week. In the five years since getting his associate’s degree, he has managed a nearly globe-spanning career. Yesterday, he returned to show current students his portfolio. Photos of him in various kitchens from small independent restaurants & large hotel banquet facilities in this country and around Asia. Indonesia. The Phillipines. Bankok. Vietnam. And the new food he is cooking in this country using influences from these cuisines.
That thought firmly in place, he emphasized learning the basics. Doing a good grilled or poached fillet of fish. A basic burger. A perfectly cooked steak. This is what customers want, he said. Once you have their trust, you can add the exotic ingredients, techniques, and garnishes. Use them in a sauce, as a side dish, or to enhance the plate. When customers know they can depend on excellent broiled scallops, they are more likely to dip them into the cilantro pesto, or to pick up the carrot-fennel salad with rice wine vinaigrette. The clients’ palates are happy, and so is the chef’s creative spirit.
Works in the home kitchen, too. Especially with kids, notorious for wanting nothing on the plates to change. Meanwhile parents worry about how to slip something healthy into meals.
I’ve tried the the pesto recipe below as a sauce paired with grilled steak, dolloped on scallops, tossed with tortellini and green beans, and over garden-fresh tomatoes. I’ve had fun changing up the ingredients, sometimes adding switching the greens, other times the cheese, and still others, adding citrus juice. Sometimes I skip the greens altogether and use another vegetable, like roasted red peppers, instead. Of course, this recipe is itself a twist on the basic basil pesto.
BASIL-MINT PESTO WITH CREAM CHEESE
Makes 6 servings
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
½ pound cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
½ cup OO
½ cup grated Parmesan