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.







2 replies
  1. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I love pesto in its many forms! Can you help me with this though- I can never grow a nice enough basil plant to have enough for everyday cooking plus a batch or two of pesto. What am I doing wrong?!?

    • Sunshine Scout
      Sunshine Scout says:

      Hello friend!

      Plant more basil in the spring so you can harvest it for pesto, which you clearly love! You can start the seeds in your house in the spring to get a jumpstart! Then, treat your sweet basil well. Plant it in a spot that gets ample sunlight and water it freely. Prune your leaves frequently by pinching off the stem above a pair of leaves! The more you harvest your basil the more it will grow! Pinch any pesky flowers from your plant because they’ll change the sweet, delicate flavor, although some people do enjoy the blooms on salads or in tea. I usually plant basil in May, and then buy a few new basil plants to stick in the dirt as June unfolds. That way, if I forget to prune regularly (which I sometimes do), I have fresh, “back-up basil” waiting to be savored.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.