Ancho Chile Pesto with Queso Fresco

Ancho (Ahn-cho) Chile (Capsicum Annum) means Wide Chile Pepper. This chile ranges from 3 – 4 on a heat scale of 1 to 10. An Ancho is the dried form of a Poblano Pepper and often is mislabeled as a Pasilla or Mulato Pepper. Anchos have sweet fruity flavor with hints of cherry, prune, and fig. Anchos, combined with the Pasilla and Guajillo, form the Holy Trinity of chiles used to prepare the traditional mole sauces. Scoville heat units are 1,000 to 3,000.

Suggested Use:
Anchos are great in salsa, soups, enchilada and any sauce needing mild heat and chile flavor. Chopped, pureed or ground, they can be added directly to your recipes.

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1/4 cup pine nuts
2 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
boiling water
4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. peanut or canola oil
1/3 cup crumbled queso fresco (2-1/2 oz.)
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper
cayenne pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Spread the pine nuts in a pie plate and bake for about 2 minutes, or until they are lightly toasted. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely.

2. In a small heatproof bowl, cover the anchos with boiling water and let them soak until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain the chiles, reserving 2 Tbsp. of the soaking liquid.

3. Meanwhile, in a small skillet (not nonstick), cook the garlic cloves over moderate heat until softened and blackened in spots, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly, then peel.

4. In a mini food processor, combine the garlic cloves, reconstituted ancho chiles, reserved chile soaking liquid, pine nuts and oregano. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped. With the machine on, add the peanut oil and process until a chunky paste forms. Add the queso fresco and the heavy cream, season with salt, pepper and cayenne and pulse to blend. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

5. Applications: Spread on the inside of softened corn tortillas when making enchiladas or fajitas. Toss with steamed or sautéed vegetables. Use as a condiment with grilled steaks, chicken or pork. Add to sour cream or Greek-style yogurt for a quick dip. Mix with ground meat as a seasoning for meatballs.

MAKE AHEAD: The ancho chile pesto can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Recipe by Grace Parisi, Food & Wine Magazine, December 2002.