I am always on the hunt for an easy, weeknight supper. Whether I only have time for a quick chicken dinner or simple pasta dish, a go-to item that I learned to make in Italy and that I use to make any dish complete is pesto!
Why have you done a good thing?
Despite common misperceptions that pestos are unhealthy for you, pesto sauces are loaded with mono and polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E, and fresh herbs. Pestos are also a good way to get more calcium into your diet from dairy in small manageable doses. Whether you are cooking for one or a whole family feast, pestos are easily made ahead of time. Freeze in big portions or in individual portions in ice cube trays for convenient saucing during the week.
How to make basic pesto: (yields 4 cups)
½ cup pine nuts
2 tbsp chopped garlic
5 cups fresh basil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 ½ cups extra virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Put all ingredients except olive oil in a blender or food processor. Process for 30 seconds. Add oil a little at a time and blend again until combined. Don’t have a food processor, just use a really sharp knife to chop everything and then combine with cheese and oil. If freezing, add a small layer of oil on top prior to putting into the freezer.
See, no need for store bought pestos. Voila, presto pesto!
Other variations: Constants in a pesto are the oil, garlic, salt, pepper, herbs/greens and hard cheese. Mix it up with different kinds of nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachio, etc or combinations) and various herbs (parsley, mint, basil, cilantro). Substitute herbs with arugula, spinach, or any greens you can think of! Try different cheese such as fontina or Romano cheese.
Toss whole wheat pasta with pesto and roasted or sautéed veggies and cheese.
Grill chicken or fish and marinade in pesto
Make homemade pizza and use pesto instead of tomato sauce
Add extra oil to thin pesto for salad dressings
Use as a condiment to your sandwich
Top your next omelet with a dollop of pesto
The possibilities are endless. Making pesto one of the most diverse sauces in cooking, so much so that you will never get bored.
--Amy Santo, MS RD