Adding a dollop of cream cheese to your pesto is the perfect way to stretch its substance. It also produces a wonderfully creamy spread. Savory roasted chopped veggies sit atop this smooth pesto crostini, and bold, syrupy reduced balsamic rounds out the flavors and makes for an elegant presentation. From Orange, Lavender & Figs.
MAKES 24 CROSTINI
½ pound zucchini,cut into ¼-inch dice
½ pound yellow squash, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 small red onion, slivered
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Kosher salt and coarse black pepper
1 baguette (18 inches long), cut crosswise into 24 equal slices
½ cup balsamic vinegar
Sunflower Seed–Cream Cheese Pesto (recipe follows)
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
On a baking sheet, toss the zucchini, squash, and red onion with 2 tablespoons of the oil, the oregano, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Roast, tossing once halfway through, until tender, 13 to 15 minutes.
Spread the baguette slices on a separate baking sheet, drizzle them with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until lightly golden and crunchy, 6 to 8 minutes.
In a small saucepan, heat the balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat. Once it boils, reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally to keep from burning, until the liquid has become thick and syrupy, 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat.
To assemble the crostini, spread each toasted baguette slice with the pesto and arrange them on a platter. Evenly sprinkle the roasted vegetables over the crostini and then top with the crumbled feta. Drizzle the entire platter with the balsamic reduction.
For an epic pizza night without the delivery fee, swap in buttery naan bread or pita for the crostini. Paint the flatbread with olive oil and hit it with your best shot of Italian herbs. Throw it on the grill or griddle until lightly charred and crisp and proceed with your pesto, veggies, and feta. Cut into wedges and finish with the balsamic drizzle and a round of craft beers.
Sunflower Seed-Cream Cheese Pesto
Cream cheese and pesto in the same sentence? Don’t worry, you’re not dreaming. The name may sound fancy, but just a few buzzes of the food processor and you’re on your way to whipping up this savory spreadable sauce filled with fluffy cream cheese and tart lemon.
MAKES ABOUT 1½ CUPS
¼ cup unsalted raw sunflower seeds
2 small cloves garlic
Kosher salt and coarse black pepper
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1½ cups packed fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon honey
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup olive oil
½ cup whipped cream cheese
In a dry small skillet, toast the sunflower seeds over medium-low heat, tossing frequently, until lightly golden and very fragrant, about 5 minutes. Immediately remove the seeds from the pan and transfer to a bowl to stop the cooking process.
In a food processor, pulse the sunflower seeds, garlic, and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper until the seeds are broken down. Add the parmesan, basil, honey, and lemon juice and pulse until thoroughly combined. With the motor running, stream in the olive oil a little bit at a time until the pesto is velvety.
Add the cream cheese to the food processor and pulse until the pesto is very creamy and smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This spreadable sauce ain’t just for spreadin’. Toss it with al dente elbow noodles and sharp cheddar, pour into a soup crock, top with parmesan, and bake until golden for the mack daddy of mac and cheese.
Sunflower seeds are the perfect substitute for pricey pine nuts—which typically go in pesto. They also work as a fantastic variation for those with nut allergies. Can’t find sunflower seeds? Roasted unsalted pumpkin seeds work like a charm.