The first recipe I ever memorized was basil pesto. I felt so accomplished being able to pull the ingredients from the fridge and pantry and whip it up in no time. Granted, there are only a few ingredients and even fewer steps, but it still felt good to be able to create something from my mind. Over time I fine-tuned the recipe by adding some extra steps that might seem superfluous but I promise you, they make the difference between a good pesto and a great pesto.
- Spread on bread for chicken or veggie sandwiches
- Mix with Greek yogurt for a delicious dip, marinade, or healthy alternative to mayonnaise in a potato or chicken salad
- Use in place of tomato sauce for pastas, pizzas, and dips
- Add to ground chicken or turkey for meatballs, burgers, or meatloaf
- Spread on bread and toast for a variation on garlic bread
- Add to scrambled eggs
- Brush on shrimp or fish before grilling or steaming
- Mix into cooked rice or grains for an easy side-dish
- Stuff into chicken breasts or burgers
- Farro with Coarse Pesto from Handle the Heat
- Chicken Fettuccine with Pesto Cream Sauce from Handle the Heat
- Add in a handful of spinach for extra green color and nutrition
- Add an 8.5-ounce jar of sun-dried tomatoes, using the olive oil from the jar in place of the extra-virgin olive oil in recipe
- Go nuts – switch out toasted walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, or pecans for the pine nuts
- Use arugula instead of basil for a spicy kick
- Add a splash of lemon juice, lemon zest, and thyme for a citrus twist
How to make Pesto
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley (optional)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pine nuts evenly on a small baking sheet and toast until lightly golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Let cool.
Place garlic cloves in a small saucepan, cover with water by 1-inch. Bring to a boil then immediately drain and let garlic cool. This mellows the pungent taste of raw garlic (and also helps prevent garlic breath!). Feel free to skip this step if you enjoy raw garlic.
Using a food processor (or blender or mortar & pestle), process garlic, basil, pine nuts, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until coarsely chopped. With the food processor still running, gradually add enough oil to form a smooth and thick consistency.
At this point you can freeze the pesto for later use. Line an ice-cube tray with plastic wrap or spray lightly with non-stick spray. Divide pesto into ice cube holes and place in freezer until solid. Pop out cubes and store in an air-tight container in the freezer until ready to use. Defrost in the fridge or at room temperature. Proceed with next step, if desired.
Remove mixture to a bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese. The pesto can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent browning.
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