Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Value Guru Says "Pesto Change-O!"

By Susannah Simone, August 12, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Susannah Simone
Winter Pesto A traditional well-made pesto is a beautiful thing. Aromatic fresh basil, rich extra-virgin olive oil, authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, piquant garlic and crunchy pine nuts add up to perfection…but they can also add up at the cash register. So I've been grateful every time I learned a new tip to help ease the pain on my pesto pocket book. First, I grow my own basil as long as weather permits, make big batches of pesto at once and divide up into portions for the freezer. I toast—and then cool—the pine nuts to coax even more flavor out of them. I also discovered that it isn't necessary to drown the pasta in pesto, especially if you use decent pasta and cook it in salted water for the right amount of time. In fact, the overarching lesson I learned about pesto is to consider it a seasoning…every ingredient is power packed with flavor, so you don't need a ton of it. That led me to thinking about other flavor-rich ingredients that perhaps would offer a similar—if not quite so incredible—seasoning experience in a pesto, but without the incredible cost. Veggie Packed Pesto I started with the cheese. I absolutely worship Parmigiano Reggiano. The minimum-2-year-aged treasure we offer in our stores is truly worth every nibble…and that's how I like to enjoy it, in little nibbles, perhaps with a touch of honey. It is uh-mazing stuff. What I have decided not to do with this nice stuff is bury it in pesto. Instead, I use Argentine Parmesan or good-quality domestic Parmesan in my pesto instead, or I use another hard grating cheese with intense flavor, such as Pecorino Romano, Sardo, Grana Padano or Dry Jack. These don't always cost less but if you know there are options, you can watch for sales on pretty much any "hard grating cheese," or just choose to change up the flavor and cut your pesto cost in another way, right? In fact, you could even make pesto without cheese—gasp!—with or without adding a little nutritional yeast as a substitute (a trick I learned from vegan recipes). Walnut PestoOnce I was "over" the cheese hump, I was released from the traditional definition of pesto. Incidentally, "pesto" simply translates to "pounded" and I'd long ago liberated myself from hand pounding my pesto, opting instead to not waste the laborious efforts of those who invented food processors and blenders. That said, I do occasionally do the old-fashioned thing with a mortar and pestle to make pesto or a rustic hummus. So, my mind freed from convention, I began imagining all of the super-flavorful ingredients and possible combinations for pesto. I will admit right here up front that I had already seen some non-basil pesto varieties in the refrigerated case in the our stores and we have some interesting pestos in our recipe database too, so I cannot claim to have invented all of these combinations. But here you go, have fun and definitely share your ideas for flavor combos and money-saving pesto tips! Try these pesto combos for a pesto change-o!
    Artic Char with Pesto
  • cilantro & pumpkin seeds
  • black olives & cashews
  • parsley & pecans
  • sundried tomatoes & pistachios
  • poblano or hatch chiles & pumpkin seeds
  • spinach & walnuts
  • arugula & pecans
  • artichoke hearts & almonds
What goes into your favorite pesto?




CKC07 says ...
I love making basil arugula pesto with pine nuts. YUMMY!
08/12/2009 10:37:01 AM CDT
Christie @ Quit Your Diet says ...
I recently picked up an arugala pesto from the farmers market that was superb!
08/12/2009 10:47:55 AM CDT
Louise Ross says ...
I love mixing up the 'green' portion of pesto. Because I find basil and garlic very intense and pungent flavors, I always do half basil and half curly parsley. Parsley helps diffuse the after-effects of raw garlic on the palate.
08/12/2009 10:55:49 AM CDT
Noodle says ...
As for me, I use a whole bunch of basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, Frantoia olive oil and the juice of 1/2 lime. And Setaro dry pasta, of course.
08/12/2009 11:04:31 AM CDT
Lisa says ...
Pecorino Romano is way better than Parmesan!
08/12/2009 11:25:06 AM CDT
Meredith says ...
I LOOOOOVE Pesto! I had only ever had traditional Pesto and Sundried Tomato Pesto. We were at a Farmers market in June an came upon these things I'd never seen before...Garlic Scapes. Ever heard of them? You can only get them in the month of June (in the northeast) we were told. I asked what you did with them and the man suggested making Garlic Scape Pesto. OH MY GOD ....HEAVEN! It was so good! Garlic scapes are a little less pungent than a regular bulb of garlic. If you're a garlic fan than you must try making Garlic Scape Pesto. Just Google it, we did and it was FABULOUS!
08/12/2009 12:42:27 PM CDT
Colure says ...
Spinach and walnut pesto sounds AWESOME!! And I can make it gluten & dairy-free! And I have all the ingredients in my house right now. Can we say dinner inspiration?? :D
08/12/2009 1:32:35 PM CDT
Holly says ...
Who's got THE BEST vegan pesto recipe?
08/12/2009 1:48:53 PM CDT
Rachel says ...
My favorite pesto recipe is a Garlic Scape Pesto. Puree a bunch of fresh garlic scapes, add some great olive oil, throw in some pine nuts and some parm. It's magnificient!
08/12/2009 2:11:16 PM CDT
jacob says ...
For the parmesan in a pesto recipe, I like to use half pepper or habanero jack and half parmesan. It gives it a spicy kick that always goes well with the garlic and basil, and the jack is usually cheaper than the parmesan.
08/12/2009 2:49:12 PM CDT
Sherry says ...
My daughter mixed up a cilantro, lime and garlic pesto to have on wild salmon and it was heavenly!
08/12/2009 3:23:38 PM CDT
Jmczar says ...
I find that sage makes for a nice pesto, with it I'll use a little lemon and serve over pasta with some fresh cut home-grown grape tomatos. I prepare the sage the same way I do basil pesto and will sometimes serve it with chicken. Yum yum!
08/12/2009 4:14:10 PM CDT
Nicole Shiu Horowitz says ...
This summer I've made and frozen batch after batch of garlic scape and almond pesto. I also really enjoyed spinach, parsley, and pistachio pesto. Of course, my freezer is also stocked with basil pesto (purple basil, opal basil, lemon basil, sweet basil, etc...) and my CSA has provided me with enough arugula to keep me in peppery pesto for months. It's pesto-rific!
08/12/2009 4:35:22 PM CDT
Sheila Brookes says ...
08/12/2009 4:46:16 PM CDT
Suzi Fields says ...
I make my pesto with lemon basil for a change of pace. I also use about half of the oil as a traditional recipes call for. It makes a final product that is less greasy and that is has more flavor because you can taste the herbs more instead of the overpowering olive oil. Of course I grow all my own basil and I even mix many different favors in batches such as cinnamon basil thai basil and sweet basil.
08/12/2009 5:07:16 PM CDT
cheflaszlo says ...
looks pretty good. I miss whole foods, I'm moved to Malta.
08/12/2009 6:13:20 PM CDT
Connie says ...
I'm such a fan of pesto that I freeze it for the winter and have loads of basil plants during the summer. I really love it with walnuts and when I use pinenuts, I roast them! Great flavor! VA
08/12/2009 7:26:19 PM CDT
cooking4carnivores says ...
we had a huge bounty of basil in our garden this year, so i have made pesto a few times. here is how i make it - http://www.cooking4carnivores.com/search/label/simple%20sauces. and i love to use it on pizzas, like this - http://www.cooking4carnivores.com/2009/07/gourmet-pizza.html
08/12/2009 10:26:43 PM CDT
Zenimue says ...
I like to layer pesto with lasagna noodles and tofu ricotta + various varieties of organic tomatoes and Follow your heart Mozzarella cheese alternative. I tried using cilantro pesto for the 1st time last night after seeing it mentioned on the Whole Foods FB page & it was delicious. Made this for family and vegans & non vegheads loved it.
08/14/2009 12:43:27 PM CDT
Ellen says ...
You really should mention the problem many people - including me - are having with pine nuts. There is something about the pine nuts from China that causes many people to have "pine nut mouth." This is an intense bitter/metallic taste that lingers about 10 - 14 days. Apparently not harmful, but quite unpleasant. It first appeared in Europe in 2001 and is sweeping the U.S. now. I know they are more expensive, but I wish WFM would (a) carry pine nuts from the U.S. southwest and from Europe and (b) warn people about this possible problem with pine nuts from China.
08/18/2009 1:39:17 PM CDT
Meenakshi says ...
I love pesto and I know about it being heavy on the pocket.... over the years I've experimented and found that a cheaper version with spinach (instead of basil) and almonds (instead of pine nuts) works wonders! While we're at it, add some sundried tomatoes as well! Here you go: http://onestopeats.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/spinach-pesto-pasta/
08/18/2009 4:30:53 PM CDT
MM says ...
I like using almonds instead of pine nuts.
09/16/2009 8:50:11 PM CDT
Rita Salman says ...
Preserving the HERBAL HARVEST- To have BASIL in January, the Herb Society of America Baton Rouge Unit suggests to make an HERBAL CONCENTRATE and FREEZE immediately. RECIPE for HERBAL CONCENTRATE Wash Basil leaves on the stem, put stem in jar of water overnight for leaves to dry,next day Pick leaves of BASIL, pack into food processor Add 1 TBS. Lemon juice to help prevent darkening Add 1/4 cup olive oil- pulse until coarse chop. Fill small glass jars, pack it in, cover with olive oil and wax paper, then LABEL & FREEZE. In January, (adding the Rest of the ingredients NOW- keeps the flavors more lively), DEFROST & USE ALL in pesto with a bunch of FRESH GREEN PARSLEY LEAVES (to brighten the color) and your choice of nuts, cheese, garlic, oil, or whatever you like. Use Immediately - DO NOT STORE GARLIC or HERBS in Oil- Botulism. If some is leftover, REFRIGERATE and use within a couple of days. In Louisiana, January-March is a great time to forage weeds from the garden. I add Dandeloin, Japanese Hawks Beard, Plantain and other weeds (Nutrient DENSE foods) to my pesto. Look at BASIL & BOOKS on our unit website (www.brherbs.com) and see some MEMBER recipes. Basil has antibiotic properties and great to eat in the cold and flu season. Garlic has tons of HEALTH BENEFITS. Food is your MEDICINE!!
09/17/2009 12:11:15 PM CDT
Robert says ...
Read all about my experience with Whole Foods pine nuts, which should carry a warning, before you dive into their pesto recipe. If you enjoy eating food and not having everything taste bitter, I highly recommend informing yourself, since Whole Foods won't warn you about the dangers of the products they are selling.
01/12/2010 12:14:22 PM CST
Can Crusher · says ...
food processors can really shorten the time it takes for you to prepare home cooked meals ~*,
11/14/2010 7:54:57 AM CST