Every summer, I grow bushels of sweet and lemon basil. I love transforming the herbs into a fresh-tasting, bright green pasta sauce by combining them with garlic, Parmesan and pine nuts.
But you can match up just about any green with any nut to produce a pistou (as the French call it). Pine nuts can be pricey, so I often substitute walnuts, which produce a darker green sauce. And since parsley grows in my garden year round, I’ll use parsley as a base after my basil crop is spent.
Here are just 10 things you can do with a jar of pesto. But really, you’re limited only by your imagination.
1. Pasta sauce: If I know I’m making the pesto for pasta, I’ll leave out the cheese and add it when I’m pasta-ready. I fold the cheese into the steaming pasta, then mix in the pesto.
2. Salad dressing: Add more olive oil for a thinner consistency, then toss with greens.
3. Italian tortellini soup: Drop a tablespoon of pesto into the bowl to give soup stock and tortellini a kick.
4. Rice topping: The bright green basil pesto gives white rice a festive look.
5. Sandwich spread: Spread the pesto on toasted Italian bread, then top with grilled chicken breast and roasted peppers.
6. Couscous topping: For a quick and fancy lunch, toss couscous with the pesto, then top with grilled shrimp or vegetables.
7. Tomato Caprese Dressing: Instead of pouring plain olive oil onto this tomato and mozzarella salad, drizzle a small amount of basil pesto.
8. Pesto meatballs: Mix pesto into ground beef and turkey, to give your meatballs a garlicky taste. Or, add pesto to these vegan black bean “meatballs.”
9. Grilled corn: Spread pesto over ears of corn, cover with aluminum foil, then toss on the grill.
10. Marinade: Coat chicken, fish or meat with pesto, then marinate for at least 8 hours.
Basic Pesto Recipe
I’ve used this basic Joy of Cooking recipe for years. Sometimes, I substitute walnuts for pine nuts, and parsley for basil. Most of the time, I’ll double the recipe, because I want to make good use of basil during its limited, hot-weather growing time.
Often, I’ll freeze the pesto in ice cube trays, and then transfer the single-serving nuggets into a plastic bag until I’m ready to use.
1-1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup pine nuts.
¼ cup thinly grated Sardinia or Parmesan cheese
¾ cup olive oil
In a food processor with a chopping blade, add and chop in order:
- Pine nuts
While the processor is running, pour in olive oil until you have the consistency of creamed butter.
Cover and refrigerate or freeze.