Cilantro pesto, a nice alternative to the traditional basil pesto, isn't for the faint-hearted. Cilantro when ground into pesto, surprisingly takes a backseat to the pungent garlic aroma, but does retains some of its grassiness. If you find it's too strong for your liking, combine with basil leaves.
A cow's milk Parmigiano Reggiano fuses the flavors together. Pecorino Romano makes a lovely, slightly cheaper albiet, more earthy alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano. Made of sheep's milk, a good Romano is dense and salty in flavor.
Really, the hardest part about this recipe is the washing of the cilantro! But if you have the right frame of mind, set aside a half hour, you might really find this enjoyable. Learning how to enjoy the process is part of the joy in cooking, no?
Often, I can find cilantro at 3 bunches/$1 versus the $2.99/bunch for fresh basil. Just this factor alone is motivation enough to spend a few extra minutes on such a delicious project. But add to that the knowledge of cilantro’s health benefits and surely, washing cilantro becomes a labor of self-love. Sunflower seeds have a significantly longer shelf life than pine nuts, lasting a few months in the pantry and up to a year in colder storage.
Recipe modified and adapted from Food Network and SimplyRecipes.com.
2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves (about 2 bunches)
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, raw
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Wash Cilantro. Cut off the ends that are bound and gently wash in a large bowl of salted water, then drain. Wash like this twice to remove all the dirt and grit.
Then (this is the fun part!), remove the cilantro leaves from the stems, discarding any brown or yellow leaves and stems that are especially woody or thick.
Simple trick: hold a stem with leaves of cilantro, and with your index finger and thumb slide the bottom portion of leaves off in a downward motion; then, just snip off the top bunch of leaves.
It’s not necessary to remove all of the stems, just a lot of them.
Now, we get to it: In a food processor, combine cilantro, garlic, and sunflower seeds pulse until the consistency you desire. Add 1/2 cup of the oil gradually and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Add grated cheese and pulse to incorporate. Season with fresh ground pepper and a pinch of salt if needed.
Serve tossed with your favorite pasta and serve with fresh orange wedges to clean the palate.
Fresh pesto is an extraordinary treat. Power-packed with polyphenols and an outstanding source of Vitamin E and protein, perhaps pesto really has magical powers after all.