If you haven’t tried pesto yet, you’re missing out on something truly exquisite! Google confirms this fresh garlicky sauce’s excellence by listing it as one of the 10 most searched food items in 2017!
We love this green summery treat tossed in pasta topped with grated Parmesan cheese, but that’s not all pesto can offer. It is a very versatile ingredient that combines with all sorts of ingredients to create amazing dishes!
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The Classic Pesto Recipe
So, if you want to make a standard pesto, here is a foolproof recipe:
6 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Method of preparation:
Put half of the basil in a food processor or blender, followed by the pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, and salt and process until finely chopped.
Blend in the rest of the basil, then combine the two batches and process until you get a homogeneous paste, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Slowly add the olive oil while the motor is still running.
Note: If you’re going to use your pesto as a spread, reduce the amount of olive oil to ¼ cup. The addition of a ½ cup will make it perfect for soups and pastas.
Process until the oil is well blended into the mixture.
Taste and add more garlic, pine nuts, cheese or salt if necessary. No cooking required!
If you had ever bought pesto from the grocery store, you might have noticed that it spoils relatively quickly (changes its color to dark brown). So, it is best to prepare smaller batches (the recipe above produces one cup) or consume it within several days.
To make your pesto last as long as possible, store it in a small container and pack it thoroughly to eliminate air pockets. Then, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface or cover the surface with a plastic wrap. Cover and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Pesto can also be frozen for several months.
The original pesto recipe calls for basil leaves but the truth is anything that is green and leafy can serve as a base for this garlicky sauce. Think kale, spinach, collards, parsley, or rosemary for instance.
Pine nuts can also be replaced by any other type of nut. We’ve recently experimented with walnuts and the results were incredible! (Find the recipe below).
What about the cheese? Can it be replaced? Sure, as long as the substitute you choose is hard cheese (like asiago or pecorino), you have nothing to worry about. Moreover, you can use ricotta cheese instead of the olive oil to reduce the amount of fat and make a healthier version of the aromatic sauce!
And if you ever get bored with the green variety, you can switch to red! Here is a recipe made with sun-dried tomatoes:
The colors of our favorite Italian sauce are so vivid you can combine them in jars and use them as holiday gifts along with loaves of Italian bread!
Note: If you have no problem splurging on more expensive ingredients (the final results are worth it), never substitute regular black olives for Greek calamata olives. The rich calamatas add that extra punch of flavor that makes the spread taste special.
Favorite Pesto Recipes
Pesto addicts eat the sauce by the spoonful. Others spread it on pizzas, toasts, and sandwiches or include it in pasta. Want more? We especially like pairing this fresh sauce with chicken, but also incorporate it into pastries and even bread. Here are our favorite recipes.
The variety made with basil leaves has a wonderful, rich, fresh-from-the-garden taste that is great with pasta—why not enjoy it with rice? Basil is one of the easiest kitchen herbs to grow, as long as you have lots of sun in your garden outside, or a sunny window ledge inside. Pinch off the top-most leaves as you need them—it actually grows better with pruning.
Bring a touch of Italy to the dinner table with this delicious pasta dish—you won’t believe how easy it is to make! For a heartier dish with a richer ﬂavor, replace half the chicken with chopped sliced ham in Step 2.
A variation that is made with rosemary and coarsely ground walnuts instead of the usual basil adds a nutty richness to this sautéed chicken. Any leftover sauce can be stored in the refrigerator and spread on toasted baguette slices the next day. If there’s any chicken left over, make great little chicken sandwiches!
Diced tomato and shredded Parmesan cheese add a fresh taste to this easy chicken dish made with prepared pesto. Vary the recipe by using different pasta shapes, such as bow-tie or penne pasta.
Crushed basil leaves kneaded into the pretty lattice crust and pesto in the hearty steak ﬁlling imbue this pie with the robust ﬂavors of summer.
Filled with pesto sauce and “double cheese,” buttery pastry roll-ups are little bites of heaven for delighted party guests. For another version, try using large flour tortillas. Spread the fresh green sauce on the tortilla, sprinkle with the Swiss cheese and grated Parmesan cheese. Roll up tightly, cut into 1-inch slices and bake at 350°F for 12–15 minutes.
If you liked the previous recipe, here is another variation. These impressive looking pastries are surprisingly easy to make. They’re ﬁlled with succulent Parma ham, Parmesan cheese and aromatic pesto. Place 2½ cups basil leaves, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 large clove garlic and 3 tablespoons pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor and blend to make a paste. Add 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, then slowly pour in ⅓ cup olive oil while blending. Use in the recipe above or as a sauce for pasta.
Bring a taste of Italy to your dinner parties with focaccia ﬂavored with pesto and topped with slices of grilled zucchini. Why not add some pine nuts? Soak 2 ounces in a small bowl of water for 20 minutes. This will stop them from over-browning. Arrange them on the dough with the zucchini slices in Step 5. Or sprinkle the focaccia with grated Parmesan cheese right out of the oven.
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The sauce for this dish is more than just a pasta sauce. You can dip boiled halves of new potatoes into the sauce for an appetizer. Or spread it over pizza crust, then top it with mozzarella and broil the pizza for a quick supper. You can even combine the sauce with mayonnaise to make a dressing for potato salad!