Chef Tim McGrath’s phenomenal green olive “pesto”
The guest chef-instructor at Barbara Fenzl’s Les Gourmettes Cooking School this week was Chef Tim McGrath of Cook’s Gathering Catering in Long Beach, California. Tim is one of the most creative, sharing, and knowledgeable chefs I’ve ever met. I am constantly being asked for a recommendation for a caterer here in town and each time, I wish that Tim was in Phoenix, because he would always be my very first choice, hands down! When I told Tim that, he let me know that he would be willing to fly to Phoenix to cater a party, so if you ever have a need for something really special, he’s your man! For class he served Mini Ahi Tuna Kabobs with this outstanding “pesto”. One of the best things about Tim’s classes is that he’ll be teaching you a dish and then give you a dozen other ideas of what to do with that recipe. When he suggested using this olive pesto on a crostini with goat cheese… well, that is right up my alley! A great bonus… it’s “Easy – Breezy” and the colors lend themselves perfectly to the upcoming holiday season.
What is it that makes this recipe so “Easy – Breezy”? Well, besides using the food processor to make the pesto and that fact that it is a quick and delicious appetizer, every single ingredient can be found at Trader Joe’s! The roasted piquillo peppers are sold in a 10.4-ounce jar, and you can’t find a better price on the almonds, goat cheese, or olive oil anywhere in town. You will notice this recipe does not call for salt, that is because the olives and their brine are salty enough. The brine is used to thin out the pesto. Unlike traditional pesto that uses basil, the olives and almonds do not have a high water content, thus the brine is needed to create the perfect consistency.
So what are these piquillo peppers that are use as a garnish here? They are a variety of chili grown in Northern Spain. The name means “little beak” in Spanish. The peppers are harvested between September and December. They are roasted and have a distinct spicy-sweet flavor. They are then peeled and seeded, before being packed into jars. In Spain they are often roasted and left whole before being stuffed with meat, seafood, and/or cheese and served as tapas.
When you slice soft goat cheese, the knife can smash the log shape of the cheese and often there is more cheese left on the knife itself than there is in the slices. Solution? Dental floss! Seriously, I have a roll of unflavored dental floss in a kitchen drawer and use it just for slicing goat cheese. Cut off a piece of floss long enough to extend across the cheese and wrap around both of your index fingers, then use your thumbs to hold the floss taut. Pull the floss downward to slice through the cheese. The floss will allow you to thinly slice the soft cheese, and it won’t smash or stick to it at all. This technique works well for softened cream cheese or Boursin and other rindless soft cheeses too.
Goat Cheese and Green Olive- Almond Pesto Crostini
1 cup green olives stuffed with pimientos
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 cup Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
a scant 1/4 cup of the olive brine that olives came packed in
Freshly ground black pepper
Additional olive oil for brushing bread
French baguette, cut into 32 slices, on the diagonal
11-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese (chèvre)
1 roasted piquillo pepper (from a purchased jar), thinly sliced
Place olives, garlic, almonds and parsley in a food processor; pulse until ingredients are well ground. With the machine running add the olive oil through the feed tube until the mixture is fairly smooth. Thin out with the olive brine to the desired consistency. Season with freshly ground pepper, and pulse a couple more times. Set aside.
Using dental floss as directed above, cut 16 thin rounds of goat cheese, use floss to cut each of the rounds in half so they better fit the shape of the baguette slices, for a total of 32 pieces. You will not use the entire log of goat cheese, reserve for another use.
Preheat broiler to high heat. Brush both sides of the bread slices with oil and place on a baking sheet. Broil until golden brown, about 1 minute. Turn slices over and broil second side for another minute or until golden brown, immediately top each piece with a goat cheese slice. Return to oven and broil until cheese softens slightly, about 1 more minute.
Spread pesto on top of warm goat cheese and top with a thin piquillo pepper strip. Transfer crostini to a platter. Serve hot from the oven or at room temperature.