Whenever we’re faced with bunches of herbs or other greens that need to be used, one reliable solution comes to mind: Make some pesto. Sometimes it’s traditional, with basil, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, salt and pine nuts. But just as frequently, it’s something mixed together with a little bit of this herb and a little bit of that nut, until we’ve got an off-the-cuff condiment that we’ll stir together with pasta and leftover roasted vegetables or spread on toast and top with a fried egg.
We like to use a food processor (even a mini one does the job) for its convenience and speed, but you can also finely mince the herbs, nuts and garlic and then stir in some oil and cheese. (It’s supremely helpful if you use a large cutting board for this — chopping large amounts of herbs isn’t such a tidy task, otherwise.)
A quick scan through our archives reveals more than 100 ways that we’ve used pesto. Here are five basic recipes to get you started.
Basil Pesto. The classic condiment that comes to mind when someone says “pesto” — with basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus some salt and lemon juice for balance. Toss it on pasta, use it as a sandwich spread (also try it mixed with mayo), stir it into potato salad or deviled egg filling, smear a layer on some flatbread for a quick sort of pizza … you get the idea.
Basil Paste. Not bird nor plane nor even frog, it’s just little old basil, blended with olive oil. (Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?) This easy preserving technique sees you mixing delicate herbs — think basil, mint, lemon verbena, cilantro and parsley — with oil and then freezing them in small batches. (Little snack-size zip-top bags work well; just be sure to label them!) Whenever you’re ready, pull them out of the freezer and watch them heroically defrost in minutes while you prepare some garlic, pine nuts and cheese to add to the mix.
Save-the-Herbs Pesto. As you might gather from the name, this blend uses up all those herbs that are about to take a turn for the worse in your refrigerator — even the heartier ones, such as rosemary, oregano and thyme. A little balsamic vinegar adds a sweet-acidic kick while a roasted red pepper lends a little extra body.
Celery Leaf, Parsley and Pistachio Pesto. Once you’re comfortable blending any combination of herbs, go crazy and experiment with the other stuff in your refrigerator. Here, the bitter and slightly astringent notes of celery leaves pair well with bright, punchy parsley and buttery pistachios. This recipe is particularly useful in cooler months, when fresh basil may be harder to find.
Mustard Greens + Pecan Pesto. Because pesto need not be limited to herbs! In this recipe, the bite of mustard greens is tempered by buttery pecans; try it dolloped over baked sweet potatoes, eggs or polenta.
And remember that nearly any green (dandelion, spinach, kale, for starters) can be blitzed with oil, nuts (or seeds!) and cheese. The key lies in balance: Taste as you go, be generous with salt, and don’t be afraid to add a squirt of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar.
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