Pesto is a well known and loved by many for its savory, summery flavor. It’s easy to make and the best way to preserve summer’s most prolific growing herb. Because it freezes remarkably well, this allows us the opportunity to enjoy its herbaceous flavor for months after the growing season has ended.
Pesto’s main Ingredients
- 5 -6 cups fresh basil Leaves
- 1/2 cup pignoli nuts (AKA pine nuts)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1.25 cups good quality EVOO
- 2-3 tablespoons minced garlic
History of Pesto
The earliest documentation of the original pesto recipe dates back to sometime in the mid 1800’s in Genoa, Italy. Basil, garlic, nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano were ground or crushed together with a mortar and pestle and smothered in olive oil to be used as a sauce or a spread. Centuries later, nothing has changed! The core recipe remains fully intact and is enjoyed by people all over the world to this very day. This cannot be said for too many other recipes, which I think is a remarkable testament to this traditional recipe.
Cooking with Pesto
Pesto goes with everything! More often than not, I use it as a condiment rather than a sauce. I enjoy adding a dollop to eggs, crostini toasts with goat cheese, served on the side of grilled chicken, flank steak or any kind of fish, drizzled over roasted vegetables or a freshly sliced summer tomato. It’s uses are endless.
When serving pesto on hot pasta, use some caution. It does turn brown quickly and the oil breaks down, so use it sparingly to avoid an overly oily pasta dish. Do not add it to the pasta until ready to serve.
When dressing a cold pasta salad, mix the pesto with a little bit of mayonaise which will help stabilize it and keep it from oxidizing or getting too oily.
Basil Growing Tips
Basil is an extremely prolific herb and the more you harvest it, the more bountiful it becomes. When harvesting, clip the basil right above the first set of four leaves and it will continue to produce plentifully. Continuously prune and harvest basil, even when you don’t need it to prevent it from bolting. Once the basil bolds and shows signs of going to seed, the leaves become bitter and are no longer useable in recipes.
Make it your own
I always found it interesting that so many different recipes exist for pesto, yet they all use the same handful of ingredients- how many variations could there be? Over time I have learned that pesto is personal!
You can take the exact same ingredients as someone else and the result can be astonishingly different. The freshness of the nuts, the kind of basil, the quality of oil and cheese, the type of salt, all play a role in the end result. Additionally, the quantities used and even the temperature of the room and how long you process it for can produce a similar, yet notably different result. You have to make it yours, and make it just the way you like it.
- Use the best quality ingredients that you can
- When tasting to adjust for seasoning, remember that your flavors will marry together after sitting, which will soften the garlic intensity.
- Parmesan cheese is naturally salty, so keep that in mind when adjusting your seasonings.
- Do NOT over process the pesto or run the processor more than necessary. If it gets warm, the mixture will separate. If the processor is getting warm, add an ice cube to keep the mixture cool. On a hot summer day, you can chill the processor container and blade before using.
How to Store Pesto
Fill small jars with pesto and drizzle a light coating of EVOO over the top to prevent oxidation. Cover and use within 2-3 days or freeze up to 6 months.
An important note about salt:
All salt is not created equal. The type of salt you cook with will absolutely impact your finished meal. If you use 1 tbs iodine salt as a substitute, then your final dish is likely to be much more salty than the recipe intended. I only cook with Diamond Course Kosher Salt. That is why I can recommend it with confidence. Whatever you choose to cook with, be mindful and remember you can always put the salt in, but you can’t take the salt out!
More delicious sauces to serve with meats:
- Pesto: The classic basil pesto is a go-to sauce that everyone enjoys.
- Chimichurri Sauce: This herbaceous vinegar sauce is an excellent sauce to serve with all varieties of meats and vegetables.
- Tzatziki Sauce: This yogurt based cucumber sauce can be served with anything!
- Basil Parmesan Sauce: Fresh basil is Puréed with mayonnaise and seasoning for a savory side sauce.