Sweet, delicious, and based on the ingredients you have at hand! Pesto is one of those accompaniment that lot of us enjoy eating but rarely think about making ourselves. In fact, it takes just minutes to prepare, it’s extremely versatile and ideal for freezing.
Packed with many health benefits, pesto includes heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids from olive oil, iron from the leafy greens and vitamin C from lemon. Added bonus? Iron helps boost the absorption of vitamin c, so consuming them together in a natural combo is a win win. Plus, since basil can be pricey during cooler months of the year, having frozen pesto in the freezer is like having money in the bank!
We all know that pesto tastes delicious stirred through a big bowl of hot pasta, but that’s only part of the story. Moving beyond pasta, pesto can be used as an accompaniment to many roast dishes. Use a couple of tablespoons of pesto to flavor soups, sauces, sandwiches, some pizza and in meat marinades, you’ll be surprised by the results. Roasting a chicken, turkey, or game hen? A little pesto between the bird’s flesh and its skin gives a very savorous main course.
Basic steps to make pesto at home
Here’s a simple guide to create your own perfect version: know that the possibilities are endless! Pesto is always made to taste, based on the ingredients you have at hand in your pantry and garden. So don’t expect accurate volumes and weights. But as easy as pesto is to prepare, there are a few things to remember though.
Make sure to use fresh ingredients only. Dried basil or powdered garlic are really not meant for fresh pesto. Although you can use a food processor to make pesto, a high-speed blender is ok, as well. But, honestly, the best pesto I’ve made was from a traditional mortar and pestle, by hand. Anyway, no matter which method or appliance you use, don’t over-process the basil. Unless you want to obtain a mushy darkened basil glue.
1. Select a nut or seed you want to work with
Toast approx. 1⁄3 cup in a dry skillet until lightly browned; let cool. Mix in a food processor until finely ground. The following nuts and seeds are great and can be used interchangeably:
Pine nuts – Almonds – Walnuts – Cashews – Pecans – Pistachios – Sunflower seeds – Hazelnuts – Sesame seeds – Pepitas (hulled green pumpkin seeds)
2. Choose your base
Add 3 cups total (choose up to 3 various greens is you want):
Basil – Parsley – Collard greens, chopped – Kale, chopped – Cilantro – Mint – Watercress – Arugula – Spinach, chopped – Romaine, chopped
3. Choose your seasoning
Add 1⁄2 to 1 teaspoon total of the following ingredients (choose up to 3); add 1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt and mix until finely chopped.
Garlic, chopped – Lemon zest, grated – Orange zest, grated – Fresh thyme – Fresh tarragon, chopped – Red pepper flakes – Fresh oregano, chopped – Fresh rosemary, chopped
4. Pick a cheese
Grate 1⁄2 cup, add to the food processor and pulse to combine.
Parmesan – Asiago – Grana padano – Manchego – Aged or smoked gouda – Pecorino – Gruyère – Aged cheddar
5. Finish the pesto
Slowly pour in 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, mixing to incorporate. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup of any of the following (optional). You’ll have about 1 cup pesto; use about 1⁄2 cup for 1 pound pasta.
Mascarpone – Sun-dried Olives, pitted – Roasted red Fresh tomatoes – Ricotta – Tomatoes, chopped – Peppers, chopped
1. One key to perfect pesto is chopping all the ingredients by hand, preferably with a sharp mezzaluna or knife.
2. Pesto-dressed pasta can, also, be served at room temperature and, if chilled, the addition of a few ingredients will make a great pasta salad.
3. If you don’t have every ingredient listed, get creative and use what you have on hand You can swap the ingredients as follows:
- Basil can be replaced by spinach, parsley, arugula or cilantro.
- Parmesan can be replaced with pecorino, romano or Grana Padano cheese.
- Pine nuts can be replaced with walnuts, pistachios or cashews.
4. Fresh lemon juice and zest brightens up the flavor and adds a great acidic balance to the olive oil, cheese and nuts combination. Dry toasting the pine nuts takes less than 10 minutes and provides a deep, rich flavor that you simply don’t get with raw pine nuts.
Here’s a few pesto recipes you can try:
Storing and freezing homemade pesto
You can store pesto in your fridge for up to one week, and freeze it for much longer, as said above. If you choose to freeze your pesto, however, don’t add any cheese to it because it won’t thaw properly. Instead, prepare your pesto without the cheese, freeze it, and after you thaw it, stir the pesto into your pasta, adding cheese at the same time. If you are going to freeze it, put your pesto into an ice-cube tray. Once frozen, remove the cubes, place them in a bag, and store it in the freezer. This way you will ensure that you’ll defrost only what you need, when you need it.