When you think of pesto, what comes to mind? I’m going to bet it’s something green, and includes some basil. Also, it’s probably Mediterranean in flavor, right? Well, allow me to open your mind a little bit. Pesto is a delicious condiment with so many possibilities!
What is Pesto?
According to Wikipedia, pesto comes from, “… a Genoese word ‘pestâ’ (Italian: pestare), which means to pound, to crush, in reference to the original method of preparation, with marble mortar and wooden pestle.”
Pestos were (and sometimes still are) made this way by basically pulverizing all the ingredients together until, you guessed it, they are a tasty paste. Lucky for us, we can make it with a food processor (unless you want to use that mortar and pestle and get a little upper arm exercise). The other great thing about pesto? It’s simple, and there are so many variations, you are only limited by your imagination.
The Many Different Kinds of Pesto
Pesto comes in many flavors, and can be used in a variety of ways. If you’ve never made it before, there’s a basic formula. Here’s the breakdown:
4 parts veg/leaves/herbs
1-2 parts nuts/seeds
1 part cheese
1 part oil
Put your choice of ingredients in the food processor, and blend to a paste. Using a mortar and pestle? Put it all in, pound away into a paste. Don’t have either one? Chop up your ingredients as finely as you can, and mix with oil. See? Simple.
To show you how simple it really is, I took the ingredients in the photo above and put them all (as is) straight into a mini food processor. What came out was delicious! No measuring necessary.
Pesto can generally be stored in the fridge, making sure it is covered in olive oil to prevent spoilage. It may be easy to make, but heartbreak will ensue if you ever have to throw it out.
Top Five Pestos to Make, Jar, Serve, or Share
While there are many different kinds of pesto, here are a few worth making and even buying.
Basil: It’s a classic, and readily available.
Sundried Tomato: This is a slightly sweet version of pesto, with a gorgeous red hue. See a Plum Deluxe variation on this, Nick’s Two by Two Pesto.
Roasted Red Pepper: Also a breathtaking red, this is slightly smoky and sweet.
Artichoke Spinach: Have you had the dip? Try it as a pesto. A little out of the ordinary, and a snap to adapt it from a dip recipe.
Hatch Chile: I found this recently, and it’s become a favorite in our house! It’s slightly spicy, without overpowering the flavor of the famous chilies.
There are times you don’t want to, or can’t, make it. This is fine, because pestos in all the flavors above — and many, many others — are available at supermarkets and gourmet food stores in your area or online. The most important things are that the colors are vibrant and the amount is small enough to minimize waste when the jar is opened.
Also watch for funky food additives you don’t recognize or couldn’t spell without looking twice. There’s also no need for added sugar, so be sure to read the label. Look for a pesto with a short list of ingredients, which you could buy individually in the produce section of your market. Be sure to check the refrigerated section of the deli for pestos, too; they will (by necessity) be very fresh.
How to Use Pesto
Are you inspired to try, make, or purchase pesto? Maybe a little unsure how to use it? The possibilities are only limited by your imagination, or the power of your friendly online search engine. Here are a few ideas to use that luscious flavorful paste:
- Pasta: Cook your pasta and mix in a few spoonfuls.
- Spread it on toast and top with a poached egg.
- Drop a spoonful into tomato soup for an extra boost of flavor.
- Use chile paste in tacos or quesadillas.
- Toss bite-sized pieces of cauliflower with pesto, and roast in the oven.
- Stir a couple spoonfuls into sour cream or cream cheese, and serve
- Serve with crackers for an easy appetizer.
- Use pesto as a marinade.
- Mix in a spoonful with your potato or tuna salad.
You get the idea. Before you reach for butter, mayonnaise, or oil in your next dish, reach for pesto. There’s so much deliciousness to explore!
All photos are courtesy of the author except the first image by vamr.