Sunday 11 May 2014

Two Scrumptious Low-Carb Cheese, Nut & Herb Pestos

Feta, Blue Cheese, Herb & Toasted-Walnut Pesto with
Griddled Courgettes (recipe below). 
One of the things I miss most on my low-carb regime is glorious garlicky hummous.  Although hummous has a relatively low glycaemic-index ranking and load - depending on how much tahini it includes - it is still fairly packed with carbohydrates, so I avoid it these days.

Over the past few weeks I've been experimenting with combinations of cheese, nuts, herbs, garlic and olive oil to create vibrant low-carb pastes packed with singing flavours.

Because these pestos contain both nuts and cheese, they're crammed with calories, but all you need is a single dollop to add beautiful aroma and crunch to steamed fresh green beans or broccoli or griddled sliced courgettes.

You can also serve these as a dip with hot and cold crudités, or dobbled on flash-fried chicken or fish fillets If you're not on a low-carb regime, try tossing these through hot pasta, or spreading them over hot toasty ciabatta bread (with a topping of roasted tomatoes or some melty mozzarella) to make scrumptious bruschettas.

First, a gorgeous nutty pesto with fresh Mediterranean flavours.  I know this looks a bit like window putty, but I promise you won't be disappointed by the punchy flavours of this easy and versatile sauce.

Low-Carb Pesto of Roast Aubergine, Macadamia Nuts,
Feta, Lemon & Rosemary. This nutty pesto is delicious
 with steamed green beans lightly dressed with olive oil 
and lemon juice.
Low-Carb Pesto of Roast Aubergine, Macadamia Nuts, Feta, Lemon & Rosemary

1 large aubergine [eggplant or brinjal]
½ cup (125 ml) macadamia nuts
a big pinch of flaky sea salt
2 'wheels' (about 140 g) feta cheese, crumbled
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely grated lemon zest
the juice of a medium lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) very finely chopped fresh rosemary needles
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely grated
½ cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
salt and milled black pepper 
a pinch of smoked paprika or cayenne pepper, for dusting [optional; see Cook's Notes, below.]

Heat the oven to 200 ºC.  Put the whole aubergine directly onto a middle rack of the oven.  Let it bake for 40-50 minutes, or until it is very soft and slightly shrunken.  Remove and set aside to cool for 25 minutes.  

Now toast the macadamias. Heat a frying pan over a medium-low heat and dry-roast the nuts for three to four minutes, tossing and turning them frequently, until they are a light golden colour and freckled here and there with dark-brown spots. 

Put the macadamias, still warm, into the jug attachment of a stick blender, or into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add a big pinch of flaky sea salt and press the pulse button repeatedly to process the nuts to fairly big crumbs. Don't over-process them, or they may turn into an oily paste. Tip the crumbled macadamia nuts into a mixing bowl.  

When the aubergine has cooled, cut it in half lengthways and use the blade of a knife to scrape out all the flesh, seeds and all. Tip this flesh into your food processor, and discard the tough outer peel of the aubergine.

To the food processor, add the feta cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, rosemary, garlic and seven tablespoons (105 ml) of olive oil.  Process until you have a fairly smooth paste.  If the blade is reluctant to turn, add a tablespoon or two of warm water. 

Scrape this mixture into the bowl containing the macadamia crumbs and stir well to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tip the pesto into a glass lidded jar and pour the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the top to seal it and prevent oxidisation.

To serve, pile the pesto into a small pretty bowl, and drizzle with more olive oil.  Grind some pepper over the top, and dust with smoked paprika or cayenne pepper. 

Keeps for a week in the fridge, and freezes well.

Makes about 1½ cups. 

Cook's Notes: 
  • When I make this, I dust it very lightly with smoked paprika, which adds a final flavour flourish. Do use smoked paprika sparingly, though, as its pungency can overwhelm the other flavours.
  • I love the crunch and interesting meaty texture of macadamias, but if you can't find these where you live, try using blanched almonds instead.  
  • You can roast the aubergine a day or more in advance, and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to use it. 
  • If you'd like to add some extra colour to this pesto, whizz it up with 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of chopped fresh parsley.

Feta, Blue Cheese, Herb & Walnut Pesto with Griddled Courgettes

See picture at the top of this post. 

50 g (about 25) shelled walnuts
a small bunch (about 40 g) fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
half a pillow-pack (about 40 g) fresh wild rocket, roughly chopped
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
a small clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated
a small block (40 g) creamy blue cheese, crumbled
one 'wheel' (70 g) feta cheese
milled black pepper
24 young courgettes [zucchini or baby marrows], rinsed to remove any grit

To serve: 
olive oil and fresh lemon juice, for sprinkling
salt and milled black pepper

First toast the walnuts. Place them in a frying pan over a medium-low heat and dry-roast them for a minute or two, tossing frequently, and watching them like a hawk as they burn quickly.  When they are hot, and smelling pleasantly nutty, take the pan off the heat.  Remove 6 toasted walnuts and set them aside for your garnish.  Tip the remaining nuts into the jug attachment of a stick blender, or into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process the nuts to a rough crumb, and set aside.

Remove the stalks from the parsley and add the leaves to the food processor along with the rocket, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Process to a fairly fine paste. Don't worry if the blades won't whizz freely - the next step will sort this out.

Add the blue cheese bits and process the mixture till smooth. You will find that the mixture magically smooths out into a soft paste.  But if the blades still won't turn freely, add a few drops of warm water.  Now add the feta and process again.  Season with plenty of black pepper.  You shouldn't need to add any salt, but go ahead and add a pinch or two if necessary. If the mixture needs a little more acidity, add a drop or two more of lemon juice.

Scrape the mixture into a small serving bowl or glass jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. Seal with clingfilm and refrigerate.

To prepare the courgettes, slice them lengthways into 'leaves' 3 mm thick.  I do this using a mandolin, which produces perfect shavings. If you don't have a mandolin, you can use a very sharp knife, held with its blade horizontal to your chopping board.

Put a large griddle pan or a frying pan over a high flame until it's blazing hot, add a lick of olive oil and fry the courgettes slices for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until they are tiger-striped, toasty and just soft. Tip the slices into a bowl and sprinkle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot with spoonfuls of the pesto, and the crumbled toasted walnuts you set aside earlier.

Makes about ¾ cup of pesto. With the courgettes, serves 6. 

Cook's Notes: 
  • If you'd like to give this pesto even more fragrance, add a small handful of fresh basil. 
  • This is very good with pan-fried beef, lamb or ostrich steaks.
  • You can freeze this paste in a small lidded box.  Let it defrost overnight in the fridge. 

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1 comment:

Robyn said...

I love this post JA... By far one of the most original and yummy sounding 'pestos' I've ever seen. Going to HAVE to try it. Probably with chicken. Xxx