Once you get the basic pesto recipe down, you can get creative with your combinations. Start with whatever greens you have left over in your fridge: arugula, basil, spinach, broccoli rabe, parsley, cilantro, mint, garlic greens, or "scapes", wild ramps, mustard greens, lightly cooked asparagus, lightly cooked broccoli, green onions, braising mix, fennel, snow peas, lemon balm, Asian greens…well, you get the idea. If it’s green and yummy, you can make it into pesto. For a mellower pesto, pair stronger flavored greens like cilantro, garlic greens, or mustard greens with spinach or another mild vegetable (a 50/50 mix is good).
Below are a few of my favorite combinations.
Spring garlic pesto = half garlic greens, half spinach, and walnuts (but no garlic)
Parsley-chèvre pesto = Italian parsley, pine nuts, aged chèvre
Arugula almond = arugula, almonds, garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus the juice of half a lemon
Mint–green onion pesto = ¾ cup mint, ¼ cup green onions, 1 cup parsley, and garlic (but no cheese), plus ½ teaspoon grated organic lemon rind
Thai pesto = cilantro, Thai basil, garlic, sesame oil, and peanuts (but no cheese), plus a tablespoon of minced gingerroot, a tablespoon of lime juice, and hot pepper to taste
Parsley-walnut pesto = parsley, walnuts, garlic, and Romano cheese
Just as green pesto has almost infinite variations, you don’t need to stop with green herbs or vegetables. Add ½ cup of sundried tomatoes to the other ingredients in the food processor for a rich, tangy sauce. Roasted red pepper or grilled eggplant are also delicious additions, as are lightly cooked mushrooms.
Serve your finished pesto tossed with hot whole-grain pasta (mix a little hot water with the pesto to thin it for easy tossing), spread it on toasted rounds of good whole-grain bread, use dabs as a pizza topping, brush it on grilled meat or seafood, dilute to make a marinade, or include a bit in an omelet.
Pesto will keep two to three days in the refrigerator; for longer storage, freeze it in an ice cube tray and pop the frozen cubes into an airtight container. Drop a cube or two into soup for a flavor lift, or thaw and toss with hot pasta for a quick meal.
When fresh basil season finally rolls around, be sure to check out Maria Rodale’s recipe (with a secret twist) for the absolute best emerald-green basil pesto!
Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.
Published on: April 7, 2010
Updated on: April 8, 2010