There is nothing quite like the amazing aroma of basil. Whether you’re fortunate enough to have it planted in your garden or you pick up a bunch at the farmers market, basil inspires delicious food. And when many of us think basil, we think pesto. However, not all pesto features basil – in fact, pesto can be made with almost any herb or green.
The word pesto derives its name from the way it is traditionally prepared – with a mortar and pestle (mortaio e pestello). In Liguria, a ceramic mortar and wooden pestle are used with a gentle turn of the wrist, which allows the taste from the basil to be squeezed out as opposed to crushed. If you aren’t a traditionalist, feel free to use a food processor. While pesto is best when made fresh and added to fresh pasta, it also freezes well so you can enjoy homemade pesto during the middle of a rainy Portland winter.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try experimenting with your pesto by swapping out an ingredient or two each time you make it. Substitute hazelnuts or walnuts (available year-round at HFM) instead of pine nuts or try using cilantro, arugula, or even snap peas instead of basil. Some people even add tomatoes or roasted red peppers. Give in to your wild side because with pesto it’s hard to go wrong!
Basic Pesto recipe (substitutions encouraged)
- About 2 cups packed basil leaves or other herbs/greens (generally this is 1 big bunch of basil or a small bunch of greens)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, or walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
- 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan (optional)
In a food processor, blend together ingredients (with pepper and salt to taste) until smooth. Pesto keeps, its surface covered with plastic wrap, chilled 1 week or frozen 1 month or longer.