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.
Basic Pesto Recipe
I’ve used this basic Joy of Cooking recipe for years. 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 (or parsley)
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
- 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.
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, meat or tofu with pesto, then marinate for at least 8 hours.