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Cooking with Pesto

posted Jul 12, 2017, 7:37 AM by Eli Roberts
By Robert A.

There’s nothing like the smell of basil on a hot summer day just calling to be made into a jar of pesto for the perfect summer treat. As pesto has become increasingly popular, it is likely that you have come across it or maybe you eat it all the time. Whether you are a complete novice or an expert, this article will discuss making and cooking with pesto.

Derived from the Genoese word “pesta”—meaning to pound or crush, pesto is made by grounding basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, and olive oil together in a mortar and pestle. It comes from Liguria, a region of northwestern Italy along the Mediterranean coast where it has been enjoyed for centuries. Pesto, however, did not become popular in North America until the 1980s and 1990s. Now it can be found at several grocery stores and restaurants and in a number of dishes ranging from pasta to pizza.

Pesto is unique from other pasta sauces because it consists of all raw ingredients. Traditionally, the ingredients are prepared in a mortar and pestle, however many people find it more practical to use a food processor or blender because of the lack of a mortar and pestle, and less manual labor is involved. Purists would argue that the mortar and pestle is the best way to prepare pesto because there is more variation in texture, and the heat of the blades of the food processor can cause the flavor of the basil to break down. However, for the average person cooking at home, the difference might be difficult to notice, and they are encouraged to try whatever method appeals to them and experiment with other methods of preparation later if they are interested in doing so.

Traditionally, pesto is tossed over pasta and served immediately, but it is a super versatile dish that can be used in a different number of ways. Because of its main ingredient, basil, pesto has its characteristic green color that adds a lot of flavor and variety to meals. It is very much associated with Italian food and can be used in as a substitute (or addition) to tomato sauce when making pizzas and lasagnas for a play on color and flavor. However, it lends itself to much more than Italian food. It can be used to make tasty appetizers. For example it can be added to bruschetta for a savory spin. It can also be used as a dip or sauce for vegetables when mixed with sour cream, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and even guacamole. It could also be incorporated into breakfast by drizzling it on eggs prepared your favorite way or added to an omelet with your choice of fillings. If you are feeling adventurous, you can add it to waffle or pancake batter for a new take on these popular breakfast items.

Pesto has become very popular in recent years among people who enjoy to cook and has generated an interesting number of variations. Some range from substituting basil with other herbs such as parsley and mint, or substituting expensive and hard-to-find pine nuts with the more easy-to-find and economical option of cashews and walnuts. However, some variations even include substituting basil with roasted beets for an interesting experimentation with color, or substituting the basil with broccoli for an interesting experimentation with texture.

Why buy decent or mediocre pesto at the store when you can make it fresh at home? With just a few simple ingredients you will have the perfect summer dish. The best way to start is to prepare pesto the way it is traditionally served, made fresh and immediately served over pasta. Below is a recipe that you can follow (or adapt) to get started cooking with pesto. Once you feel comfortable, you can branch out and try one of the variations mentioned above.

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Recipe courtesy of Food Network Kitchens