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How to Make Your Own Pestos

Updated on July 24, 2017
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

Pesto is the quiche of the 80s.

— Nora Efron (screenplay for "When Harry Met Sally")

Originally a humble little rustic sauce of basil and olive oil pounded with mortar and pestle, pesto has now circled the globe. Two decades ago if you wanted pesto you needed to locate an Italian delicatessen. Now it appears on pizzas, is featured on fast-food sandwiches, and finds its way onto the condiment shelf of countless American homes, right next to the ketchup and mustard.

According to Andrew Wheeler of Serious Eats:

The first recorded recipe for Genovese pesto comes from a late 19th century cookery book, La Cuciniera Genovese, by Giovanni Battista Ratto. The recipe was not one that would satisfy purists today—Ratto suggested using a little butter in addition to olive oil; marjoram or parsley if one couldn't get basil; and Dutch cheese mixed in with the Parmesan—yet all the essential elements of modern Genovese pesto were present.

Recipes

Basic Basil Pesto

Ingredients

  • 2 cups basil leaves, gently packed
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

Place basil, walnuts, and garlic in bowl of food processor. Pulse into finely chopped. Add oil, cheese, and salt and process until a smooth paste, stopping several times to scrape down sides of bowl.

Cilantro Pesto

Ingredients

  • 2 cups packed cilantro
  • 1/3 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1/3 cup mizithra cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

Instructions:

  1. Place cilantro, pepitas, and garlic clove in bowl of food processor. Pulse into finely chopped. Add oil, cheese, and lime juice and process until a smooth paste, stopping several times to scrape down sides of bowl.

Ideas for How to Use Cilantro Pesto

  • Dip for tortilla chips.
  • Baste chicken kebabs in the last few minutes of grilling.
  • Garnish chicken tacos.
  • Stir into cooked rice.

Parsley Pesto with Anchovies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 anchovy fillets in oil, drained
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Place parsley, capers, oregano, and garlic in bowl of food processor. Pulse into finely chopped. Add oil and lemon juice and process until a smooth paste, stopping several times to scrape down sides of bowl.

Ideas for How to Use Parsley Pesto

  • Baste fish on the grill.
  • Drizzle on grilled steak.

Arugula (Rocket) Pesto

Fresh arugula (rocket)
Fresh arugula (rocket)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups packed arugula
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place arugula, pine nuts, zest, and garlic in bowl of food processor. Pulse into finely chopped. Add cheese and olive oil and process until a smooth paste, stopping several times to scrape down sides of bowl.

Ideas for How to Use Arugula Pesto

  • Drizzle over thick slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella.
  • Add to sour cream for a vegetable dip.
  • Use in place of red sauce on homemade pizza.

Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons walnuts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place tomatoes, basil, walnuts, garlic, black pepper and balsamic vinegar in bowl of food processor Pulse into finely chopped.
  2. Add cheese and olive oil and process until a smooth paste, stopping several times to scrape down sides of bowl.

Ideas for How to Use Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

  • Toss with hot pasta.
  • Drizzle over baked chicken or meatloaf.
  • Thin with a bit more olive oil or neutral salad oil and use as a salad dressing.

© 2011 Linda Lum

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    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Nice recipe! I love fresh pasta mixed with a good quality pesto. It's makes for a quick and easy supper.