Around the time we began to cook nearly every meal — part of our Operation Do Better — we began making our own pesto. Don’t get us wrong, store-bought pesto is delicious, and convenient. But for the size — usually less than 7 ounces — and with our budget, pesto is pricey. When we read the ingredients on the back of the jar, we were surprised at how simple they were.
Aside from the preservative ingredients that give the jarred stuff its shelf life, pesto is nothing more than Parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, basil (or some other kind of green herb) garlic and some type of nut, usually pine nuts. Blend everything in a food processor, sprinkle with a little salt to taste and, presto — pesto! There are tons of other variations you can use to make pesto and plenty of recipes on the Internet to help you do it.
For our recipe we substituted pine nuts with walnuts because they’re cheaper. We bought a rather large bag of walnuts pieces, which you can probably find anywhere that sells bulk nuts, even some grocery stores. And, no kidding, the bag has lasted us about six months — we keep the bag in the refrigerator to stop the oil in the nuts from getting rancid.
We usually also buy the biggest container of basil we can find and make a rather big batch of pesto, but turns out growing basil in a window sill is pretty easy, so now we’re doing that.
We preserve our pesto, without preservatives, by freezing it in an ice tray with a layer of olive oil on top. The stuff keeps in the freezer, without getting freezer burn, for a pretty long time. But to be truthful, we’ve never left it in the freezer longer than a month because we use the stuff in so many of our dishes.
WHEN IN DOUBT, ADD PESTO
• Pasta: Of course we use pesto very traditionally in pasta dishes, but the way we use it is a little different. We occasionally use it as a standalone sauce, but often times we use it to add flavor to store-bought white and red pasta sauce. We’ll soon be making our own pasta sauces as well, but we’ll likely still add pesto because we really love the concentrated flavor.
• Fish/shrimp: We discovered this summer that pesto is great on fish and shrimp. Slather it on skewered pieces of shrimp and salmon, grill or bake. Not only is it delicious, but it keeps seafood from drying out in the cooking process. What you’ll have is succulent morsels of seafood that will disappear from plates.
•Pizza: We like making homemade pizza more than having it delivered. The act of flavoring our dough and deciding what kinds of toppings we want to add to our pizza is an ever-evolving thing at our house. We’ve tried pesto in our dough and we certainly have made it the primary sauce on top and mixed it in store-bought sauce. It is delicious. Period.
• Ingredient: For a recent tubing adventure in West Virginia, one of our girlfriends whipped out these mini-sandwiches with pesto, mozzarella cheese and tomatoes — all served on mini-whole wheat bagels. She blew our minds — they were that good.
And the delicious glue holding those bad boys together was the pesto. When you think about it, pesto would make a pretty awesome replacement for mayo in many salads and sandwiches. A new twist on potato and macaroni salad, you say? Why certainly!
So if you’re bored with what’s on your plate, give pesto a chance. We don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.