All about Pesto

Let’s talk about one of my all time favorite Italian sauces: pesto! What’s not to love? You have the fresh aroma of basil, the pungent flavor of garlic, and parmesan cheese all blended together to make up a savory sauce that can be used on pasta, sandwiches, or on top of meats like chicken or pork. Because pesto is so versatile I like to always keep a jar on hand in case I need to throw a quick meal together. I have made my own pesto several times in the past, and since I recently added basil to my garden I am sure I will be making more pesto than ever before. Below you will find new ways to enjoy pesto and different varieties of pesto you can make yourself.

To make pesto from scratch you will need:

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and ground black pepper

Add basil, garlic, parmesan and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped. While the food processor is running begin to slowly pour in the olive oil and let mix until well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

On the left is the pesto I made and on the right is pesto I bought at the grocery store

Just look at the difference in fresh pesto versus store bought! You can obviously see that the pesto on the left is much brighter but I could even smell a difference. I have never been too keen on the smell of store bought pesto but with the fresh pesto the basil and garlic were much more prominent. Flavor wise they are both delicious and really that is the most important thing. So, if buying pesto is the best option for you then, go right on ahead.

There are many ways you can adjust your recipe to fit your tastes. I like to add some crushed red pepper to add a bit of heat. I know pine nuts are pricey, so go with what fits in your budget. You can substitute walnuts, pistachios or any other nut you like. I have found that toasting the nuts beforehand can really bring out their flavor and it is pretty simple to do. Just place the nuts in a single layer on a dry frying pan over medium-low heat and cook until they start to turn a golden brown. Toasting raw nuts will elevate the flavor (versus buying pre-roasted nuts). If you want to brighten the flavor even more, add in a handful of fresh mint or parsley.

Pesto pasta is very popular and for good reason. Making pesto sauce is easier than making tomato sauce from scratch because pesto does not require any cooking. And it is also nice to break away from the typical tomato sauce now and then. If your weeks are busy and you have a hard time finding motivation to cook dinner every night this may become your new go to meal. You could make pesto from scratch over the weekend or just buy a jar of pesto from the grocery store. I like the brands Mezzetta or Alessi. Just toss your favorite pasta noodles in the sauce and serve. I like to add chicken and then top with cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. If you can find fresh pasta I highly recommend using that instead of dry pasta, because it cooks faster and it really is so much better.

I found this pesto gnocchi at World Market and decided to try it in place of pasta noodles. The gnocchi itself was enjoyable and only took a few minutes to boil. I tossed it in fresh pesto which was good, but I think it would have been even better if I had made more of a creamy pesto sauce by mixing the pesto with heavy cream.

You can also use pesto on sandwiches. My favorite is a pesto chicken sandwich on sourdough. Just rub a bit of olive oil on one side of the bread then spread pesto across the other side. Top with sliced chicken, mozzarella and tomato then place another slice of sourdough on top and grill, either on a panini press or in a skillet on the stove top, until the cheese is melted and the bread starts to toast to a nice golden brown. This sandwich is so savory, and I love that the bread starts to absorb the pesto. You could also forgo the chicken and just top the sourdough with pesto, thick cuts of tomato, mozzarella and drizzle some balsamic vinegar on top.

I have become very fond of topping meats with pesto. I have used it on chicken, salmon and pork chops and they have all been delightful! The pesto acts as a seasoning so you really don’t need to add much else other than maybe a pinch of salt and pepper. A few weeks ago I shared a foil packet pesto salmon recipe that you can check out. For pesto pork chops or chicken, just preheat your oven to 375 degrees, season with salt and pepper, top with pesto and parmesan cheese then bake for 25 to 35 minutes. Pork chops should be cooked until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees and the internal temperature of chicken should be 165 degrees.

As I mentioned before, you can buy a jar of pesto from the grocery store to use and it tastes just fine. But if you can, I encourage you to try and make your own pesto from scratch sometime. It is really easy and fun to adjust the flavors to your liking and you can experiment by adding in other herbs and nuts. Or if you have a nut allergy you can leave out the nuts altogether.

I tore this recipe out of People magazine a few years ago and it turned out absolutely delightful! The arugula added more of a peppery flavor that I’m not used to in pesto but it really works. I think this recipe is what really drew me in to making my own pesto and experimenting with new flavors. I hope you will try it and feel as inspired as I was.

Share some of your favorite ways to enjoy pesto below!

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