Ahhh… Basil pesto is just like a bright burst of summer on your tongue, isn’t it?
What exactly is Pesto?
The pesto most of us are familiar with is Pesto alla Genovese, which is a sauce originating in Genoa, the capital city of the Ligurian region of Italy. Traditionally, it consists of basil, pine nuts, garlic, coarse salt, olive oil and a hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or maybe Pecorino Sardo.
Pesto means “pounded” in Italian. So, basically, it could refer to any raw sauce prepared by pounding the ingredients with a mortar and pestle type device. You don’t need to be limited to these traditional ingredients. Here are some other ways to use ingredients you may have to make your own version of pesto. Any combination of fresh herbs or greens, nuts or seeds, garlic, olive oil and cheese, if desired, can make a flavorful pesto.
- For pine nuts, substitute: walnuts; hazelnuts; almonds; pistachios; pecans; sunflower seeds; and macadamia nuts.
- For basil, substitute: spinach; arugula; parsley; sorrel; baby chard; sage; marjoram; cilantro; mint; carrot tops; blanched, drained and cooled kale or chard.
- For parmesan cheese, substitute: Pecorino Romano; Asiago; Aged manchego; or other hard, salty cheeses. Or omit entirely to make it vegan. I do this often with great results.
Tips for the best pesto
- Always use fresh basil leaves (or other herbs) to make pesto. Look for plants with bright, perky leaves. They will have the most moisture and oils still in the leaf. Dried herbs will not work.
- Toast the nuts. You may use them raw but toasting enhances the flavor.
- Don’t over process the basil leaves. Heat from the blender or food processor, or over-chopping can cause to the basil leaves to turn brown. Add the basil leaves last.
- Add a pinch of Kosher salt. Salt helps break down the leaves plus adds flavor.
- Add a touch of citrus. Lemon juice and/or zest can brighten up the pesto and also help it to retain its color.
- Choose extra-virgin olive oil for the best pesto. A good quality olive oil will do wonders for the taste of your pesto.
- Store pesto in refrigerator with a layer of olive oil. Helps preserve the color. If you need to save it for a long period of time it is best to freeze the pesto. Use ice cube trays and over with plastic wrap.
- Keep the bright green color by blanching — a quick dunk in hot water than a cold bath will produce a creamier pesto plus maintain the beautiful color, but is not absolutely necessary.
- Pesto freezes well — make a lot of it. Freeze it in ice cube trays then store it in zip-lock bags. They say pesto will store for up to three monthsin the freezer, but I have kept it much longer!
I decided to add lemon juice to help preserve the beautiful color (since I was going to freeze most of it) and because I feel it brings all the flavors alive, but didn’t have enough lemon for all of it, so I tried some orange juice on half of the batch. I don’t recommend orange juice since it diluted the color and also didn’t have the bright flavor of the lemon. You can see the difference in the image above.
Ways to Use Your Vibrant Pesto
- Use as a sauce on your favorite pasta, vegetable noodles, or spaghetti squash.
- Use it to make homemade pizza – like this recipe HERE.
- Drizzle it over a fresh tomato salad.
- Add to your quick homemade vinaigrette.
- Use as a sauce for grilled or roasted or pan-fried fish, chicken or tofu.
- Add some to the skillet with your charred green beans or toss with grilled vegetables like zucchini or carrots or onions.
- Basil pesto and potatoes are a match made in heaven. Stir some into mashed potatoes. Drizzle some over roasted or baked potatoes. Use as a dip for homemade French Fries!
- Toss your roasted vegetables with it. Imagine the “oohs” and “aahs” you will get at Thanksgiving with your preserved summer condiment!
- Stir some into your scrambled eggs as you cook them. Or just add a dab on top of scrambled or fried or even boiled eggs.
- Add some to your basic marinara sauce. You can even add some to your homemade meatballs.
- Add some to your favorite veggie burger recipe – or just serve on top of your burger.
- Use as a sandwich spread, like mayo – or combine with mayo!
- Stir some into a basic vegetable soup. Or this soup. Or that soup.
- Spread some on your toasted bread along with fresh diced tomatoes for a simple bruschetta.
Easy Basil Pesto
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice fresh
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup Parmigiana Reggianno or Pecorino Romano grated
- ¾ cup olive oil extra virgin
- 5-6 cups fresh basil leaves
- Add the pine nuts to a small skillet over medium heat and toast until golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a food processor, add the pine nuts, garlic cloves, lemon juice, salt and cheese, if using. Process the ingredients for approximately 30 seconds or until the ingredients are finely chopped. Then add the basil leaves and process just until incorporated. While the food processor is still running, slowly drizzle in olive oil and continue processing until a smooth paste begins to form. Stop the food processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Store the basil pesto sauce with a layer of olive oil over the top in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
- To freeze, scoop pesto into ice cube tray compartments. Once frozen, pop those out into ziploc bag or airtight freezer container and freeze for up to 3-6 months.