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Monday, September 05, 2005

Basic Pesto Recipe

With Summer in full blast the scent of basil is in the air. At my house the most common thing to do with basil is make pesto. Pesto is an intensely herby sauce that with pasta makes a meal or is great dabbed on top of fish, swirled in soup, on pizza, crostini, or even mixed into mashed potatoes.

Pesto is traditionally made with basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and pecorino cheese which is pounded into something that defies description. No good word exists to describe how glorious pesto is. Think about it. Paste? Goo? Goop? No. Even "uncooked sauce" doesn't do it justice.

While basil is abundant at the moment, I would like to suggest that actually there are several other good "pestos" that are not basil based. Last night I used arugula to make a lovely pesto with toasted walnuts. It was perfect over cheese ravioli. A cilantro pesto is terrific with fish or on quesadillas. A mint pesto is great with lamb or with white beans.

With a basic formula you can come up with a myriad of variations by replacing the basil and pine nuts. Try these combos:

Arugula & toasted walnuts
Mint & toasted almonds
Cilantro & cashews
Parsley & pumpkin seeds

You can also use a combination of complimentary herbs or greens like a bit of spinach with your basil or some chives with the parsley. Come to think of it there ought to be a pesto cookbook...

Note the proportions are approximate. Be flexible and make this recipe to the consistency you like best.

Basic Pesto
(makes enough for 4 servings of pasta)


2 cups basil leaves, clean and very dry
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
1-3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, or combination, grated
1/4 cup pine nuts


You can pound the ingredients together in mortar with a pestle, but you can also make this easily in a blender or food processor. Add the garlic first and chop it up with about 1/2 of the basil. When blended add the rest of the basil and the olive oil. Blend the cheese and pine nuts last. Don't over blend or the garlic has a tendency to overpower. Store in the fridge with a thin layer of olive oil on top, wrap tightly with plastic wrap to help prevent discoloration.