Mozzarella, Tomato and Pesto on Ciabatta

There’s a big difference between fresh herbs and dried ones. Dried herbs are convenient and are good for dishes that require longer cooking times. But they generally don’t have the same purity of flavor as fresh herbs, which is what you want if you’re making pesto.

The key ingredient in pesto is fresh basil, although you can make it with other herbs such as parsley. I generally like to plant some basil in my garden each spring, but this year, it somehow slipped my mind.

Luckily, a friend of mine, Pete Hougum of Grand Forks, had a bumper crop of basil and gave me a large bag of it recently. While a lot of people like to use fresh basil with tomatoes and mozzarella in a Caprese salad, my preference is pesto.

So, you can guess what I did with the basil Pete gave me. I made a two batches of pesto, one with pine nuts and the other with walnuts. Both are quite tasty, especially when spread on a piece of crusty bread such as sourdough (pesto recipe follows).

And for those of you who prefer your basil on a sandwich with tomatoes and mozzarella, here’s a recipe that looks quite satisfying.

Mozzarella, Tomato and Pesto on Ciabatta
4 slices ciabatta
4 tablespoons prepared pesto (recipe follows)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 tomato, thinly sliced
2 leaves red leaf lettuce
Spread each slice of bread with 1 tablespoon of the pesto.
Top 2 of the bread slices with mozzarella, tomato and lettuce. Cover sandwich with remaining two slices. For the lunch bag, wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per sandwich: 495 calories, 53 percent of calories from fat, 29 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 55 milligrams cholesterol, 675 milligrams sodium, 36 grams carbohydrate, 22 grams protein, 3.4 grams fiber.

Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
Put all ingredients in food processor and pulse until leaves are chopped finely.

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