I love pasta.
There…I said it.
I love pasta.
I love it hot… I love it cold… I love it when it’s dry… when it’s wet. I just… it’s a love affair.
And… in order to keep our love affair nice and spicy, I have to have a variety of ways to dress up my pasta. One of those ways… is pesto.
Usually some combination of herbs, cheese, nuts and oil, it’s a thick sauce that packs a ton of flavor.
The actual name pesto comes from the fact that the sauce was originally made in a mortar and pestle… hence pesto.
But since I made this sauce on arm day… I’m cheating and using a food processor. Just know, that it’s not a requirement to have a food processor to make this awesomeness.
As I said earlier, it’s usually just a combination of stuff… which means there can be variables.
What kind of variables, you ask?
Herbs: pesto is usually made with basil, which is what I’ll be using here – well beyond its expiration date, apparently – but don’t feel like you have to stick to that. Parsley, dill – ooh, fancy! – cilantro and beyond can be used in place of basil. It’s not so much about sticking to the tradition of basil pesto, as much as it is about learning a new method of sauce making.
Cheese: parmesan – without additives and preservatives – is usually the go-to for pesto, but it can get a little pricy. I chose Grana Padano cheese for this pesto because it’s an inexpensive cousin of parmesan – similar flavor, similar texture, and breaks down the same. Stick to the parmesan-ish family – Parm, GP, asiago, pecorino, maybe even gouda – and you should be fine.
Garlic: for me, it’s not really a matter of whether or not to include garlic – the answer is always YES – but a matter of how much! Do I want it on the heavy side? Just a light touch of it? Decisions, decisions! You can choose to opt out of garlic if you want, but your pesto will be sorely lacking something. Adding even a single clove of garlic will make a massive difference.
Nuts: traditionally, pine nuts are the go-to for pesto, but I’m morally opposed to spending $28/lb on nuts, no matter how little I need. If you can find pine nuts for a better price than I could, then go for it! I, on the other hand, am quite fine using cashews, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds or anything else that I think might blend well with what I’m going for.
Oil: because pesto is raw, it’s ripe for a flavorful oil like extra virgin olive oil (emphasis on the extra virgin), but you can also swap in an avocado oil (oooh, an avocado oil with cilantro and a little red pepper?) or almond oil… or a walnut oil or even an [organic/non-gmo] canola oil in its place.
Salt: because you can’t not salt this. There’s just too much flavor here.
And it all happens so fast… so fast, in fact, that if you blink, you might miss it.
Take two cups of herbs. Using the stems in your pesto is up to you – some stems (specifically, parsley) are too hard and rough for this kind of sauce, whereas some stems (like cilantro) can be broken down. Professionally, no one uses the stems in pesto… but we’re at home. ANd we (and by “we,” I mean “I”) are cheap.
If you choose to not use the stems, you can always save them – like I did for this – and use them in, say, a broth or something. Or you could just ignore all this and throw those things in the food processor, too.
Throw your herbs in your food processor. Don’t turn it on yet.
Add those nuts. 1/4 cup, to be exact.
Chop your cheese into chunks, and drop those in there, too. In the end, you should have 1/3 cup of cheese chunks to toss in there.
Now, add your garlic. I added five – what? yes! five! – but you can add in two.
Give it a quick blend. Add in your salt.
While it’s blending, slowly pour in your oil. About a half of a cup. It should look like a nice, thick paste.
While you can be like me and cheat on your spouse with pasta and pesto, you can also cheat on your pesto pasta – once a cheater, always a cheater! – by using your pesto on potatoes, corn, tomatoes, use it as sandwich spread, even slather it on steak (because one woman’s pesto is another woman’s chimichurri? okay, never mind) or use it as seasoning for a burger.
The thing I love about pesto is that you can always make it from some of the “leftover” stuff in the kitchen. Leftover nuts, herbs, a couple scrawny pieces of garlic and some oil? And boom. Magic happens.
Grab a little leftover (leftover!) jar, spoon your pesto inside it and keep it in the fridge. It should be good for at least two weeks this way. It can also be frozen like ice cubes, at which point you’ll just have pesto forever…
…as life is meant to be.