Pesto with basil is the quintessential summer dish. By the time July rolls around, basil (the staple ingredient) is everywhere, piled sky-high on farmer’s market tables, taking over backyards, and practically tapping you on the sun-kissed shoulder, just begging to be relished and enjoyed. Because basil is a modest herb and won’t tell you itself, let me share on its behalf: Basil delivers disease-fighting antioxidants, it combats stress, and it is virtually calorie free! Some herb, right?!
I love to make pesto a million different ways using what I have on hand. Throw in some mint, oregano, or lemon basil? Try and stop me! Toss in trendy garlic scapes? But, of course! Swap pecorino for parmesan? Don’t mind if I do! You can even skip the cheese and/or pasta altogether and use fresh, fragrant pesto sauce as a topping for zucchini or tomatoes or simply for parmesan dipping! Hey, YOLO! It’s YOUR pesto and your life!
Now listen, I’ve been making pesto since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, and although I like to experiment, I have learned a tricks over the years. See below and watch your pesto become greener, creamier, and more complex by dinnertime!
Basic pesto starts like this here. Make it better (see below).
2 cups fresh, tender basil leaves. Avoid those big, funky, older leaves!
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or fresh walnuts
2 cloves of garlic garlic or sweeter, milder garlics capes (shown below)
2/3 cup good extra virgin olive oil
A squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Combine basil, nuts and garlic in a food processor. Drizzle in some olive oil and lemon. Add cheese. Quick process. Salt and pepper to taste. (Remember, parm salty from the get-go.)
Pasta Note: In these pics I’ve added my pesto to a respectable rigatoni. Pasta with ridges, coves and the right posture offers grip and gives your precious concoction a proper al dente home!
1. Toss in a handful of spinach or kale to keep your pesto greener longer.
2. Do more than squeeze! Zest in a little yellow skin to add lemon oils, depth of flavor, and fragrance, but steer clear of that bitter pith!
3. Add a splash of starchy pasta water (cooled pasta water is better if you have a minute) to your pesto, or just don’t drain your pasta very well. That precious liquid is like Italian mother’s milk. It marries your fresh ingredients and adds a velvety creaminess to your dish.
4. Throw in sweet, mid-summer tomatoes for acid and complexity. Roasted tomatoes are delicious, as well! Toss on a few nuts for crunch. As Julius Caesar once said, “if it’s in the recipe, let it garnish the dish!” lol. He didn’t really say that .
5. To make your pesto extra special, drizzle in some thick, traditional balsamic vinegar from Reggio Emilia or Modena to add a sultry sweet-tart layer to your dish.