Cranberry-basil pesto spread

Pesto spread
Stroke of genius, people. That’s what this recipe is. If you’re one of those people who eats deli sandwiches for lunch (does anyone do that anymore?), you probably get as bored of the usual turkey-swiss-mustard combo as I do. One of the easiest ways to bring a little life and variety to a sandwich is by making your own spread.

Today, I present to you the holy grail of sandwich spreads. I kid you not. If you like your Thanksgiving turkey with cranberry sauce, if you dig a little kick in your spread, and if you love the taste of sun-soaked basil in the summer, listen up.

This bright-green pesto flecked with red cranberries is a take on the classic Italian sauce, with a slightly different mix of holiday-inspired ingredients. And it’s simple:

Stick the following items in a food processor and give it a whirl, scraping down the edges until you have a thick, creamy sauce and most of the chunks are pulverized (texture is up to you): 1/2 cup packed fresh basil, 1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries, 1/4 cup pecans, 1/2 jalapeno, 1 tsp. crushed garlic, 1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper and, finally, about 1/4 cup olive oil.

Why pecans and not the classic pine nuts? For one, pine nuts are expensive, so I rarely use them in pesto at home. I am cooking for myself here! And, secondly, different nuts add different flavors to pesto. In case you didn’t notice the Christmas-in-July (or Thanksgiving, really) theme in this cranberry and turkey recipe, pecans add another holiday-ish element and complement the other ingredients well.

Now, let’s say you are grilling a turkey or chicken breast instead of making a sandwich. Stop here and use this sauce as a topping on the meat, or stir it into pasta for a nice side. Add a bit of the pasta water to get the right saucy consistency.

But, back to the sandwich. You can dial back the oil a bit or altogether if you want, because to take it from a pesto to a sandwich spread, I blended in 4 oz. of cream cheese. The result is a creamy sauce that you can lather on toasted bread and top with turkey meat to have a little taste of the holidays.

Final step: Taste it. Check the salt. Like it sweeter? Add more cranberry. Want more kick? Put some extra jalapeno in. (That little spicy inspiration, by the way, is courtesy of my Texan in-laws, who introduced me to the glory that is fruit jam with peppers. They serve the jam over cream cheese and crackers as an appetizer and, well, you can see how I hatched this little plan.)

This spread is so, so good. Eat it in a couple days or the basil will brown, though I doubt it will last that long. What makes this magical is the balance of sweet, spice, savory and cream. And it’ll take all of 5 minutes for you to prep it and get it in your belly. You must try it!

2 thoughts on “Cranberry-basil pesto spread

  1. Oooh, I’ve been looking to try something new with my basil bumper crop–I only have almonds, so I’ll let you know how it turns out!

    1. I can’t wait to hear how it turns out! I’m sure almonds will work, but maybe you should blanch them. Walnuts would be great too!

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