Basil + pine nuts + garlic + parmesan + extra-virgin olive oil = PESTO
And, of course, a little coarse salt and a dash of lemon juice and you are in Pesto Paradise… See it has a simple soul!! Yet green magic happens in your jar. Are you ready for this classic fresh taste of summer? A heaping spoonful of this vibrant, flavorful, green, nutty, garlicky sauce, your very own pesto. No store bought sauce will come close to the taste and freshness of your own… no chance!!
Summer is here people, and it’s here to stay for a long time. It’s a gazillion degrees outside. But then this is the time when all my herbs come alive and seem to grow overnight, especially my beloved basil. He looks happy and seem to shout out to me… hey, c’mere and get me! That jarful of pesto starts dancing in front of my eyes.
Why not, it is truly a celebration of this summery, sweet, pungent, aromatic plant. And just like that, pesto happens… it’s pesto night!
What is Pesto?
Pesto sounds so fancy and gourmet, right? Most of the time you find it in the gourmet section of the store. Don’t let it intimidate you, it’s just a quick blitz in your grinder of a few classic ingredients.
That’s the basic idea behind this Italian sauce, which originated in Genoa, located in the northern region of Italy. The name comes from the Italian verb “pestare”, or the Genoese verb “pesta”, which means “to pound” or “to crush”.
Traditionally, some Italian grandma would make this classic mix in her mortar and pestle. But come modern times, you can easily replicate this in your grinder or food processor with quick pulses. That same Italian grandma would scoff at some of the modern variations people started trying, with different herbs and greens and playing with different nuts and cheeses… equally delicious though. But today lets make that grandma happy and stick to classic basil pesto.
The simple ingredients
- Fresh Basil – Fresh, happy looking basil, not mopey and sad. If you don’t have it in your garden or kitchen already, you would find it a plenty in a farmer’s market or local produce store in summer time. Another way to find them is those potted plants in your grocery store. Chop him up for tonight, then let him grow for more pesto. Wash gently and pluck the leaves off the stem.
- Pine nuts – These give a nutty, buttery flavor to your pesto. Check out my roundup of my 20 favorite pine nut recipes.
- Fresh whole garlic cloves – You only need a couple of them here, just enough to to get that sublime pungent note, not enough to ward off vampires. Remember, you can always add more if you want, but can’t take it out.
- Cheese – When it comes to cheese, it’s up to you if you want to use Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano. Just one thumb rule to follow, pesto need hard, salty, aged cheese. Nothing creamy or soft here, you want some substance, chunkiness and a little texture.
- Olive Oil – Some use extra virgin, some use a lighter olive oil. I use both, but today my mood and my pantry said extra virgin. Make sure you are using good quality oil for the best flavor.
- Coarse Salt – Season it with your heart and be sure to taste and adjust.
- Lemon juice – A dash of this tanginess in your pesto really elevates it to the 100th degree. Try it with and without lemon juice, I bet you will always add lemon juice henceforth.
Four quick steps
This classic Mediterranean recipe is very, very simple…
- Blitz in your blender or food processor. Pulse basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and salt a few times until everything is chopped. You need to pulse and not blend, as we need a rough pesto texture, not too thin or smooth.
- Slowly drizzle olive oil once all the above ingredients are chopped and combined. Drizzle in between pulses and make sure everything is well combined and emulsified. If needed, stop and scrape the sides of the blender to make sure everything gets mixed.
- Don’t forget the lemon juice! Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and pulse a final time.
- Taste and adjust. My favorite step! Now is the time to adjust “your” pesto according to “your” taste. Want some more salt… or garlic… or even more cheese or lemon? It’s all what YOU want!
How you can ‘play’ with your pesto (variations)
Basically, these are the things any Italian purist will roll their eyes at, but variety is the spice of life… here it goes…
- Mix in other herbs and greens. In place of basil, or along with basil, add spinach, arugula, kale, parsley, or cilantro. It would give great varied taste to your pesto, depending which herb or greens you used. Our favorite is basil + arugula.
- No pricey pine nuts? No problemo. You can use walnuts, almonds (we would recommend blanching the almonds), pistachios, cashews. You want to know our favorite other than pine nuts? More buttery than pine nuts? Macadamia nuts! Boy, that’s yum pesto!
- Want to go nut-free? Use pepita (pumpkin seeds) or hemp seeds.
- Experiment with cheeses. Any hard cheese would do. How about some Asiago??
Anything that needs a little zest or flavor enhancement, pesto is your answer. Right from just simple pesto noodles (yup, that’s all you need, some noodles smeared generously with pesto with a little freshly grated cheese on top for an easy lunch) to more elaborate Pesto Chicken Bruschetta… what else?
- Pesto flatbread pizza.
- Pesto Alfredo.
- Pesto as a dipping sauce.
- Pesto scrambled eggs, or a dollop on your fried eggs.
- Pesto marinade (you can thin this with more olive oil) for your grilled or baked meats.
- Pesto on top of your grilled or baked meats… and even fish, yum.
- Pesto on roasted veggies.
- Pesto as a sauce or condiment for sandwiches, wraps, salads, pasta salads, gnocchi, zucchini noodles, crostini and so so many things…
- Chicken sautéed in pesto.
- Even Pesto Shrimp and Grits!
Our next post on GypsyPlate is this Pesto Chicken Bruschetta, subscribe to get it directly in your inbox!
You made a big batch, how to store it?
Refrigerate. It’s stored best up to 5-6 days in a sealed airtight container. To store it without browning this green thing, pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of your sauce to cover its surface. Alternately, you can press a cling plastic wrap directly onto pesto.
Freeze. This freezes beautifully! You can freeze in large batches if need be. But we like to freeze it in smaller portions so we can use it several times, even when summer is past and basil is not readily available. For this, freeze the pesto in ice cube trays and, once frozen, take them out and store these cubes in a freezer bag and freeze them till you are craving for pesto time.
Isn’t that enough to make you want your own jar? What are you waiting for? Hunt down the ingredients for this amazingly versatile sauce and get blitzing in your chopper. Once you have home made, it’s pretty much destined… you are never going back to store bought! It’s simply not going to do it for you!! 🙂
5 Minute Pesto, on my Gypsy Plate… enjoy!
Check out these other great sauces and seasonings!
Cuban Mojo Marinade
North African Chermoula
Cilantro Mint Chutney
Jamaican Jerk Marinade
Guasacaca (Venezuelan Guacamole)
- 2 cups basil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup Parmigiano cheese (or other hard cheese)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp coarse salt
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- Rinse basil and remove leaves from stem. Peel garlic.
- Add basil leaves, garlic cloves, cheese, salt and pine nuts to blender or food processor. Pulse a few times until ingredients are blended into a coarse mixture.
- Drizzle in olive oil and pulse blender until all ingredients are well mixed. If needed, scrape sides of blender to ensure everything is evenly mixed.
- Add lemon juice and again pulse.
- Taste and adjust salt, garlic and cheese to your taste.
Nutrition InformationYield 8 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 173Total Fat 18gSaturated Fat 3gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 15gCholesterol 3mgSodium 203mgCarbohydrates 2gFiber 0gSugar 0gProtein 2g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
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