If you love pesto and could eat it all year long, being confined to just basil can be a bit limiting. Luckily, there are many ways to make this delicious green sauce more versatile.
First, let’s take a look at the traditional recipe.
- 2 cups basil, cilantro, or parsley
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, cooled
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil, depending on how creamy you want itPinch of salt (optional)
- Directions:Put the five ingredients into a food processor and pulse to blend. Slowly add oil through feed tube until it makes a nice paste.There really is nothing like the strong flavor of basil, cilantro, or parsley pesto, but sometimes you don’t have enough of one kind of herb on-hand. That’s a great time to begin experimenting. Using any combination of these three herbs works great.
There really is nothing like the strong flavor of basil, cilantro, or parsley pesto, but sometimes you don’t have enough of one kind of herb on-hand. That’s a great time to begin experimenting. Using any combination of these three herbs works great.
When Substitutions Work!
But why stop there? No Parmesan? Use some shredded cheddar or just about any other cheese. No olive oil? Use canola oil. Don’t have garlic? If they’re in season, you can substitute two garlic scapes. Not enough lemon juice? Use half white vinegar and half lemon juice, and you won’t notice the difference. Or just leave it out completely, and it will still be fine. The color will change faster, but the flavor will be great.
Try These Nuts
What if you’re allergic to nuts, or just don’t have any pine nuts (which are expensive)? You can also use walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans, or you don’t have to use nuts at all. The nuts thicken the sauce and help it to bind to whatever you are putting it over. Without them, you just have a thinner sauce but it’s still delicious. One way to thicken pesto without nuts is to use pureed white beans or chickpeas. These options also have the benefit of adding more protein.
You actually don’t even need herbs to make a delicious pesto. If you’re impatient for that tangy, green flavor, you can experiment with pesto recipes made from spring crops like spinach, chard, kale, or collards. By adding these hardy greens, full of calcium, you’ll be ingesting a pretty nutrient dense and delicious sauce.
Even after the herbs start growing, you may enjoy this variation enough to add kale or spinach to your original-recipe pesto. You can even use carrot tops, which if you’re like most people, probably just get composted at your house, to make basic. Use them on their own, or combine them with spinach. Those green tops also make a good addition to soups.
But what about fall? At a farmers’ market in northern Maine, and one of the vendors had a sample of pesto. I immediately went over and noticed a magenta looking spread. They had made it out of cooked beets, which is just perfect for the fall. It seems there’s just about no time of year when you can’t make this amazing and versatile sauce!
Whatever version of pesto you like best, make a lot of it when the ingredients are in season. Pour any extra you have into BPA-free ice cube trays, cover it with foil, and put it in the freezer. Once your pesto is frozen, you can pop the cubes out and place them in freezer bags. Anytime you want pesto in the winter, just pull out a cube and enjoy. Whether you enjoy the traditional herb pesto, or are excited by these new possibilities, you can stock up and treat yourself all season long.
Evergreen (or Red) Pesto
- 2 cups packed basil, parsley, cilantro, spinach, chard, kale, collards, carrot tops, sun-dried tomatoes, or cooked beets (you can also combine any of these, except tomatoes and beets)
- 1/2 cup toasted nuts (walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pecans, or white beans, chickpeas – or no nuts at all)3 cloves crushed garlic (or 2 garlic scapes)
- 1 cup finely shredded cheese (Parmesan, Romano, cheddar, mozzarella, etc.)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or half lemon juice, half vinegar, or none at all)
- 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oilPinch of salt (optional)
- Directions:Put the five ingredients into a food processor and pulse to blend. Slowly add oil through feed tube until it makes a nice paste.