Know Your Pestos – Recipes for Classic Sauces Part 1

Pesto is simply a technique which combines nuts, salt, herbs, aromatics (such as garlic), and oil together to form a paste.  The word pesto derives from the Italian verb “pestare,” which means to crush.  Originally, all pestos were made by crushing and grinding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle.

Most of the Italian recipes add cheese (almost always Parmesan), and quite a few use vegetables such as roasted peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes.  There are versions of pesto that are found in other cuisines (such as the Spanish Romesco sauce) – but we’ll address those in another article.

The pesto sauces are very versatile – you can use it with any pasta, or mix it with marinara sauce.  It is also a great cooking sauce for basting roasted chicken or on roasted vegetables.  Use it as a finishing sauce or condiment on burgers, fish, or make a pesto butter for using on steaks.

In this article, we explore some of the classic Italian recipes.


 

Pesto Genovese

     Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
  • 4 cups washed and dried fresh basil (about 3 large bunches)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

      Directions

  • Combine the pine nuts, basil, garlic, salt, pepper in a food processor or blender.  Squeeze in about half of the lemon slice (remove the pits).  Pulse until thoroughly chopped.
  • With the processor/blender running, slowly pour in the olive oil.  Stop the processor/blender.  Taste to determine the flavor balance.  Add more lemon for brightness, or more salt of pepper to taste.  Pulse the processor/blender to mix, and taste again.
  • Add the Parmesan cheese, and pulse to combine.
  • After packing the pesto in a container, add a thin layer of olive oil, and place plastic wrap directly in contact with the sauce.  This will prevent oxidation.

 

Pesto Trapanese

      Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup lightly toasted almonds
  • 1 cup washed and dried fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 6 ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

      Directions

  • Combine the nuts, basil, garlic, tomatoes, salt, pepper in a food processor or blender.  Squeeze in about half of the lemon slice (remove the pits).  Pulse until thoroughly chopped.
  • With the processor/blender running, slowly pour in the olive oil.  Stop the processor/blender.  Taste to determine the flavor balance.  Add more lemon for brightness, or more salt of pepper to taste.  Pulse the processor/blender to mix, and taste again.
  • Add the Parmesan cheese, and pulse to combine.
  • After packing the pesto in a container, add a thin layer of olive oil, and place plastic wrap directly in contact with the sauce.  This will prevent oxidation.

This recipe will also work with cherry tomatoes; try using some sun dried tomatoes for a variation.


pesto

Pesto alle Nocciole (Hazelnuts)

      Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup lightly toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 cups washed arugula
  • 1/2 cup washed and dried parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

       Directions

  • Blanch the arugula in boiling water for 15 seconds, then immediately place in an ice bath.  Spin dry.
  • Combine the nuts, basil, garlic, tomatoes, salt, pepper in a food processor or blender.  Squeeze in about half of the lemon slice (remove the pits).  Pulse until thoroughly chopped.
  • With the processor/blender running, slowly pour in the olive oil.  Stop the processor/blender.  Taste to determine the flavor balance.  Add more lemon for brightness, or more salt of pepper to taste.  Pulse the processor/blender to mix, and taste again.
  • Add the Parmesan cheese, and pulse to combine.
  • After packing the pesto in a container, add a thin layer of olive oil, and place plastic wrap directly in contact with the sauce.  This will prevent oxidation.

 

Roasted Red Pepper and Pistachio Pesto

      Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup lightly toasted pistachios
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers – patted dry
  • 1 cup washed and dried fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

       Directions 

  • Combine the nuts, basil, roasted red peppers, garlic, salt, pepper in a food processor or blender.  Squeeze in about half of the lemon slice (remove the pits).  Pulse until thoroughly chopped.
  • With the processor/blender running, slowly pour in the olive oil.  Stop the processor/blender.  Taste to determine the flavor balance.  Add more lemon for brightness, or more salt of pepper to taste.  Pulse the processor/blender to mix, and taste again.
  • Add the Parmesan cheese, and pulse to combine.
  • After packing the pesto in a container, add a thin layer of olive oil, and place plastic wrap directly in contact with the sauce.  This will prevent oxidation.

Try your own variations by using different herbs (parsley, tarragon, thyme, sage), switching nuts (pumpkin seeds, walnuts, cashews, etc.), adding other roasted vegetables (mushrooms, zucchini) – the combinations are only limited by your willingness to experiment.

Tell us about your favorite pesto recipe in the comments section.