Pesto, an herb sauce for pasta, means “crushed or pounded,” and it is one of the simplest Italian dishes. It originated centuries ago in northwestern Italy, in the Ligurian section, where basil grows wild and abundantly. And, it wasn’t long before cooks there were mixing the basil with garlic, cheese, pine nuts and olive oil. It required no cooking.
Just a little pesto can make a whole bowl of pasta a delicious meal, and the cost is very pleasing. Here is a list from which you can build your own pesto, lots of them, no two alike:
GENERAL METHOD FOR ITALIAN BASIL PESTO:
(See suggestion lists below for vegetable, flavoring, nuts and cheese substitutions.)
4 cups greens, classic Italian is basil leaves, trimmed
1 pinch coarse sea salt
2 cloves garlic
½ cup grated cheese
3 to 4 tablespoons good, extra-virgin olive oil
Combine leaves with salt and garlic, keeping the leaves intact.
Next add the cheese, blend a little more thoroughly
Add nuts and chop them.
Lastly add olive oil and mix well, leaving mixture with a slight crunch, not smooth.
Purists want you to make your pesto with a mortar and pestle. The next preferred method is a food processor using only quick pulses. The last choice is a blender, because it is so fast. With each, you have a diminishing control over how much crunch you retain.
You are not bound to the above ingredients when making pesto. From the lists below, simply choose one or more veggies from the first list, then one or two items from the remaining lists using the above method. When you are finished, you want a savory, pungent sauce to compliment pasta or any of the items in the last list.
Here is an example of an Asian pesto:
Add cilantro and mint to some basil, keep the garlic and add ginger root, and substitute peanuts for the nuts and sesame oil for the olive oil. Serve over soba noodles with shrimp and snap peas or other Asian items.
PESTO GREENS – BULK VEGGIES:
Basil with lemon zest/juice
Blanched tough greens
Chive, spinach and parsley
Dill leaves and parsley
Fennel bulb and parsley
Garlic and spinach
Green beans and potatoes
Mint with basil
Sage leaves and parsley
Sorrel, parsley, ginger root
Sun-dried tomatoes with basil
When ready to serve, place pesto in ovenproof bowl and place on a warmer. Cooking or microwaving pesto makes it gummy. Quickly place pasta, hot from its boiling water, into the pesto, toss, add more cheese and pepper flakes if desired. Freeze any leftover pesto in meal-sized zip bags.
PESTO AS AN INGREDIENT OR FLAVORING FOR:
Dip for chips or veggies
Grilled cheese sandwiches
Meat and fish baste
Sauce for seafood
Spread on crackers or bruschetta