If you’re a purist, pesto can be only one thing: an uncooked slightly
licorice-flavored, nutty, salty basil and pine nut paste used to coat
pasta. But if you’re ready to break from tradition, there’s a whole
world of pestos out there to try, and a whole lot of ways to use it.
Pesto originated in the northern Italian city of Genoa, known for Mediterranean-nurtured sweet basil (“basilica Genovese”)
with its own DOP – Denominazione di Origine Protetta – protected status
and wild pine tree forestscovering the landscape. With these natural
resources, it’s no surprise that the combination of basil and pine nuts,
with a little garlic, a glug of olive oil, and a sprinkling of cheese,
caught on and is doused liberally over pasta. The name pesto is derived
from the Italian pestare, to pound or crush, and that’s exactly how this herbaceous paste is traditionally made -- with a mortar and pestle (same root).
you don’t live in Genoa, or can’t afford pine nuts, or dislike the
black licorice flavor of anise/fennel/ /absinthe/arak/ouzo that is often
associated with basil, do like Genoa-born Christopher Columbus and go
off to discover new (pesto) lands.
The basic formula for pesto is
something green + cheese + nuts + garlic + oil + salt. And this is
where the fun begins. Mash up some garlic and salt, pick whatever herb
or leaf is overrunning your garden, add cheese and nuts that you think
will pair well, and get pounding with your pestle (or pulse your food
processor or blender a few times). Drizzle the olive oil to bring
everything together. Ecco Qua! You’ve just made (non-traditional) pesto.
of my favorite flavor combinations are pistachio with parsley or mint
and almond with dill or arugula. I usually make a base pesto without
cheese so, taking into consideration kashrut issues, I can use it a wide
variety of dishes, adding cheese when desired. I also often add lemon
juice to balance out the flavors.
Then, skip the pasta. Use
pesto to marinate meat or fish. Drizzle over roasted vegetables or farm
fresh tomatoes or fried eggs. Spread on pizza instead of tomato sauce or
on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise. Drop a spoonful in the middle of a
bowl of soup as a fancy and flavorful garnish. Add extra olive oil and a
dash of vinegar or citrus juice to make a powerful salad dressing.
if you can’t decide how to use up all your pesto now, refrigerate or
freeze it. Press plastic wrap directly onto the pesto surface so it
doesn’t interact with air. It will keep refrigerated for 4 days or
frozen for at least 2 months. Want to make your life even easier? Freeze
pesto in ice cube trays so you can defrost small amounts when you need
What are you waiting for? Grab a bunch of herbs from your
garden, scrounge around your pantry and fridge, and improvise your own
Salmon with lemon dill pesto
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine. For Passover, replace the bread with matza and use as a sauce for gefilte fish.
- ½ pound salmon
- ½ C dill fronds and stems
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 1/3 C slivered almonds
- 3-4 T olive oil
- juice and zest of one lemon
- 1-2 slices of bread (I used half a pita)
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F. Rinse salmon fillets and pat dry. Season with
salt and pepper and roast on parchment for 10-12 minutes until opaque.
In food processor, puree dill, garlic, and almonds. Add olive oil and
lemon juice and zest and continue to pulse. Soak bread in water until
mushy. Squeeze out most of the water and add bread to the dill mix.
Puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve. Spoon pesto on top of salmon and serve warm.
Roasted carrots with carrot top hazelnut pesto
Adapted from Bon Appétit.
Carrot tops taste a little bit like their roots, but are earthier and
quite bitter. To mellow the bitterness, I added one of the carrots and
lemon juice. Rather than using pine nuts as in the original recipe, I
chose hazelnuts since I like how well carrots and dukkah go together.
(Coincidentally, the word dukkah is derived from the Arabic word for to
pound.)The leftover pesto is great on vegetables that sweeten with
roasting – cauliflower, beets, parsnips, even Brussels sprouts.
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 2 pounds carrots (about a dozen medium) with tops attached
-2 T + ¼ Colive oil, divided
- kosher salt and freshly ground
- ½ garlic clove
- ¼ C hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
- ¼ C parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
- 2-3 T lemon juice
- Pinch salt
Prep. Heat oven to 400°F. Peel and trim the carrots, leaving short stems. attached. Set aside one carrot and the leafy tops.
Cover a baking sheet with parchment. Toss carrots (except for the one
you put aside) with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Roast, tossing occasionally until carrots are golden brown and tender,
35-45 minutes for full sized carrots (less time for smaller carrots).
Pulse garlic and nuts in a food processor until a coarse paste forms.
Add 1 cup of the carrot tops, the carrot you set aside, and parsley;
process until a coarse purée forms. Add olive oil and pulse until
combined; season with salt and pepper.
Serve. Serve carrots drizzled with pesto.
Parsley pistachio pesto
is very fresh. I particularly like this with cheese ravioli or roasted
potatoes. I’ve provided directions for making it in your food processor
or by hand with a mortar and pestle.
- ½ C parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 clove garlic
1/3 C shelled pistachio (I used salted and didn’t add any salt at the
end. If you use unsalted pistachios, add extra salt at the end)
- ½ C extra virgin olive oil, plus more to cover
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Option 1: Food processor
a food processor, puree parsley, garlic, and pistachios. Add olive oil,
and continue to pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Option 2: Mortar and pestle
the garlic and a pinch of salt with the pestle until smooth. Add the
parsley and pistachios and continue to mash until you have a pretty
smooth paste (but it will still be a little chunky). You’ll be tempted
to use the pestle to stir the leaves against the wall of the mortar, but
it really is more effective to just pound up and down. Add the oil
tablespoon by tablespoon and pound to incorporate into a smooth paste.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Gayle Squires publishes recipes and photographs on the blog, Kosher Camembert. Her cooking and baking is inspired by international travel .