Pesto is the Best-o!

So California is starting to have beautiful moments of spring, and with each sunny day, I get less and less inclined to make heavy, wintery foods. I am not talking smack on those carby bits of glory, but y’all know that eating a big bowl of mashed potatoes when it’s warm and sunny is less tasty than a big bowl of potato salad. Last week, to celebrate the sun, I made my favorite pesto pasta for the first time this year.See, pesto is basically the perfect warm-day pasta. For starters, it has basil, which is just a remarkably clean and crisp-tasting herb. I mean, just being around that stuff made me feel sunnier. I’ve even taking to adding a small spritz of lemon to lighten the dish (not in calories, in feeling; this is a very feelings heavy food post). I know it sounds like a recipe for a classic scent for some perfumery or whatever, but it is also the recipe for deliciousness.

Now, it might seem like it’s really unfair of me to be throwing out pesto recipes when one of the key ingredients is pine nuts and they are currently facing a shortage: the price skyrocketed to over $40 a pound in 2010. I don’t know how much they cost now because 1) there are solid substitutes and 2) there are other reasons to avoid that nut. I’m referring to “pine nut syndrome,” a metallic, bitter taste that can appear one or two days after eating pine nuts and can last up to two weeks. I’m not the local news, I’m not trying to fear-monger. This is a rare condition (really rare, no need to panic) and new, so there are still a lot of questions about what the exact link between pine nuts and that metallic taste is. But, you know, it’s just another reason to try cashews, walnuts, or almonds in your pesto.

Alright, here’s the pesto recipe. Where appropriate, I marked both vegan and non-vegan options. I swear, this is pesto for the whole family to enjoy. AND! One last thing, I am going to suggest ye olde food processor again because, I don’t know, apparently that’s an unsaid theme of my food posts? But with the magic of food processing, this recipe is wildly easy.

1 bunch of basil

1/3 cup of nuts

1/3 cup of nutritional yeast OR parmesan cheese + some extra to sprinkle on top

1/3-1/4 cup of olive oil

5 hefty cloves of garlic

Splash of lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Wilt some basil in a pan with a little bit of oil over low heat. I learned this trick from Martha Stewart ““ if you wilt the basil, it keeps a nice green color. Otherwise, the pesto comes out looking more brown than green. When it’s all wilted (a bright vibrant green, don’t let it sit on the heat too long), throw it, the olive oil, the nutritional yeast/cheese, the nuts, and the garlic into a food processor. Have at it. Let that food processor work its mighty magic. Some people don’t like to add the nutritional yeast/cheese right at the start, preferring to mix it in later, but I haven’t found myself having a big preference one way or the other. In any event, my preferred way of consuming pesto is “in copious amounts on delicious penne pasta.”

How do you make your pesto? What do you throw in to jazz it up? Maybe most importantly, what do you put it on? Fresh bread? Pasta? A spoon?


16 replies on “Pesto is the Best-o!”

If you make a bunch of pesto and want to store it over a long period of time, put it in an ice tray. When you’re ready to cook with it, just heat up a cube or so with some heavy cream over the stove. I’ve found that 1.5 cubes plus cream makes the perfect amount of sauce for one person.

Pro-tip: Don’t just pour your sauce over your pasta. Dump your pasta into your sauce and cook it on low for a little bit. This allows the flavor of the sauce to cook into the pasta so that every little bit is filled with saucy deliciousness!

I enjoy making cilantro pesto. Same basic ingredients but use walnuts and go easy on the parmesan. It’s yummy. A delicious, summery idea that I often do is to make cilantro pesto, then caramelize some onions, and add them both to fettucine with a dash of olive oil. Simple, easy and refreshingly different.

I don’t think I’ve eaten truly good pesto except in Italy. And that was in a tourist restaurant, so…I feel I should like pesto because I hear people rave about it. And the quality of cheese is the deciding factor for me.

Somebody come to Kasa Kitty and make good pesto, and I’ll make teriyaki chicken wings.

I posted a link to this post on tumblr and I got back this comment from ScaryGodmother and it was too good a tip not to share here:

“I made a giant jar of walnut-arugula pesto a few weeks ago that was delicious. Where I live basil is pretty pricey, so it’s more cost-effective too.”

This reminded me that I want to try arugula pesto, as well as spinach and cilantro. So many ways to mix it up.

I’ve been craving pesto ALL day, since I went to a favorite kitchen store, noticed some gorgeous marble mortar and pestle sets, and started fantasizing about all the things I could do with one.

The world’s best side dish to a plate of pasta with pesto: tomato salad. Good tomatoes (no mealy pink things here), sliced garlic, torn-up basil, a generous glug of olive oil, and some salt and pepper to taste – toss it all together and let it sit for at least a half hour so the flavors can meld. Serve it in a small bowl and sop up the juices with half a piece of crusty bread. In my mind, tomato salad and pasta with pesto go together like peanut butter and jelly or milk and cookies. Sure, you can have one without the other, and I often do. But together, they make a meal that is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a summer staple in my house.

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