Pesto is a summertime favorite at my house — a concoction of what I happen to have on hand: a fresh herb or leafy green, some garlic and extra virgin olive oil, a handful of nuts, some aged cheese and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Used as a sauce, spread or dip, this flavorful mixture enhances everything from salad dressing to pasta and grains, potatoes, vegetables, legumes, tofu, seafood and chicken.
Pesto originated in the Liguria region of northern Italy. It was traditionally made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese and a sheep cheese known as Fiore Sardo. The name is derived from the Italian word “pestare” which means “to pound” or “crush.” This is because making pesto entailed crushing and grinding the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle.
Chances are you’ve had pesto with a pasta dish, but do you know how easy it is to make at home? In just a few simple steps, you can create a delicious pesto. Although the traditional version will forever rein supreme, basil, cheese and nuts are not required for an outstanding pesto. A few simple substitutions can create a wonderful array of flavors and textures.
Here are some traditional and non-traditional pesto possibilities to get you started:
- Here’s a recipe for traditional Simple Pesto.
- In place of basil, try cilantro, kale, parsley, arugula or spinach. This Baked Feta with Kale Pesto on Baguette is delicious and so is this Linguine with Grilled Shrimp and Arugula-Parsley Pesto.
- Get that cheese-like flavor by adding miso, olives or nutritional yeast in place of cheese. Watch the salt! Olives and miso may mean no added salt is necessary. This Basil-Spinach Pesto is made with green olives and walnuts for outstanding flavor, and this Vegan Pesto is made from nutritional yeast, miso and tofu.
- In place of pine nuts, try walnuts, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds or pecans. The seeds are toasted in this Pumpkin Seed Pesto recipe.
- Instead of garlic, try elephant (large-clove) garlic, shallots or chives.
- Use pesto as a bread spread, a dip or a salad dressing. Remember, a little goes a long way. If you have a favorite salad dressing, add a tablespoonful of pesto. Here’s a wonderful Creamy Pesto Dip.
- Make garlic bread using pesto between each slice.
- Love pizza? Try this Tomato Pesto version.
- Top your choice of protein with a dollop of fresh pesto. This recipe features Salmon with Pesto.
- Spoon pesto over baked potatoes or stir some into your mashed potatoes.
- This summer, enjoy corn on the cob rubbed with pesto.
- Spread pesto over crackers. Top with hummus, cucumbers and tomatoes.
- This Veggie-Packed Pesto is made with basil and spinach or broccoli.
- Stir pesto into hot cooked grains and steamed or stir-fried veggies. Make green rice by stirring a spoonful of pesto into hot cooked white or brown rice.
- Pasta lovers will enjoy Pesto Linguine and Whole Wheat Pasta with Pesto and Artichokes.
- Stir pesto into hot cooked legumes.
- Summer squash on the grill is a favorite in this melt-in-your-mouth Grilled Squash with Cilantro-Pecan Pesto.
- This Seared Beef Salad with Fresh Basil Pesto and Arugula is a perfect for lunch or dinner.
Here’s a personal favorite: Cook white beans till tender, add roasted tomatoes, garlic and onions. Top with a dollop of pesto. And when in a time crunch, I head for my favorite standby, “Presto Pesto” – store-bought, ready-to-eat and fresh! Got a pesto recipe or idea that you really love? Let me know.