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Dessert Pesto


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The recent thread on what to do with basil in a dessert gave me the idea of strawberries with sweet pesto.

I tried it this weekend; what I arrived at was 2oz basil leaves, 2oz mascarpone cheese, 2 oz whole milk, 1/2 oz butter, 1 TB superfine sugar

I blended the basil with the milk (using the milk to help get as fine a blend as possible), then melted the mascarpone and butter with the sugar. I mixed it all together and blended again.

I served the strawberries whole, point-side up, in a pool of light creme anglaise, with the tips dipped in the pesto.

It worked ok, but the concept seemed better than the execution. For one, I wasn't thrilled with the texture. I was hoping to get a smoother, creamier puree, but it ended up being fairly coarse. I tried forcing it through a strainer but couldn't ... all the solids just stayed behind.

Also, the flavor wasn't as intense as I'd hoped. I was afraid the basil might overwhelm the strawberries, but the opposite actually happened. I'm wondering if basil is just less pungent this time of year.

Any ideas? Do you think a mortar and pestle might be able to get a smoother texture?

Notes from the underbelly

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You went with milk and butter - what about the more traditional-oil? You would have to think about the flavor combinations and uses, but I have some super roasted peanut oil, walnut oil, toasted sesame...or you could infuse oils - think citrus oil.

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if anyone has an extra pacojet, i'm more than happy to pay for shipping.

so with the alternative oils, do you think these will help blend to a finer texture? my only issue with the flavor was that the basil wasn't as intense as i would have liked ... possibly an issue with the basil itself. maybe a more oil-based infusion would draw more flavor out of the basil, but the mascarpone is 50% fat by weight, and the butter is 80%.

i chose milk only because i wanted some liquid to help puree the leaves, and it seemed like something that would fight the least with the mascarpone. the final thickness at room temperature was just right.

Notes from the underbelly

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Have you considered going the opposite direction and leaving it even coarser? I think with pesto (the traditional sort, anyway) there is a sort of "sweet spot" where the grind is fine enough not to have large chunks, but coarse enough to have some textural interest. Maybe even to the point of adding nuts?

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations

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I like the idea of stufffing the berrries. although i'll miss the visual of the green tips. and i'm not sure i'll like the coarse texture in that application either.

I thought about cooking the basil in butter or something to extract more flaver, but i'm afraid of losing the fresh basil pungency in doing this. the flaver and aroma seem so delicate.

It seems strange that it's hard to get a smooth puree out of this stuff. I wonder if a food processor would do better than a blender. Or if the fine disk of a food mill would make any difference.

Notes from the underbelly

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In Italy i have had basil sorbet and ice cream ( gelato)

and i make a basilcello..

so I would infuse the basil in a simple syrup.... and go from there.

Cream and butter and mascarpone will kill flavor.

once you have your basil simple syrup, you can use that as your base.

Also sometimes a little citrus will pick up and highten flavor.

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I'm curious what you mean by "kill flavor." I've infused basil, thyme and rosemary into cream with very good success. I've never measured, I siimply put a bundle in and remove it when I think its sufficiently strong, but its worked for pastry cream, mousse and ice cream.

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I assumed divina meant that it could mute flavor the way it does in sauces. It takes the edge off and makes them more subtle. This has never been a problem for me in something like a basil infulse creme anglaise, but a pesto is supposed to be very direct and pungent. I suppose it's possible that all the creamy cheese muted the effect.

Notes from the underbelly

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I once made a sweet basil 'puree' (texture like a pesto, a little smoother maybe, but without the oil and nuts).

Anyhow, blanch the basil in boiling water until tender, then refresh in ice water. I then pureed the basil in a syrup (1.25Kg sugar/litre of water) - for best results use a little syrup, then add more and more basil to it as you puree with a hand blender (just as you would make a pesto).

Another interesting technique is to pulse a bunch of basil with a blender or food processor (add just a touch of water), wrap it in cheesecloth, and then squeeze out the juice, then blend it however you see fit.

Just throwing this idea out there, but why not put some thick vanilla custard in the middle of the dish (make a creme brulee, then pass through a tamis), put some strawberries on top, have your basil sauce around that, and then garnish with say, a crystallized basil leaf? (for the leaf, whip some egg whites until somewhat frothy, dip the leaf in it, then coat in sugar and put in a very low oven to dry).

Edited by Mikeb19 (log)
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using good quality perfumed,just ripped from soil basil,pureed with very little oil to help release the flavour,and then draind slowly through a coffee filter will give a very good basil essence,basil doesnt like to be messed with to much,treat it with care and dont touch it to much before use.

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