When we tasted the fresh fettuccine with almond pesto from our new catalog, we were reminded how wonderfully flavorful and satisfying the simplest dishes can be. The silky, tender noodles are tossed with pesto, the ultimate no-cook sauce — starring aromatic herbs, nuts and cheese — to create a perfect summer meal. Here, we’ll show you how to make pesto, how to put your own spin on it, and creative ways to use it in the kitchen.
Traditional Ligurian pesto is made with a mortar and pestle for the best taste and texture. The grinding action produces a smooth mixture that brings out the full flavor of the ingredients. Just add basil, pine nuts, garlic and salt to the mortar and, using a rotating motion with the pestle, grind the ingredients against the sides to form a paste. Then add the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and grind in a circular motion until blended. Drizzle in a thin stream of olive oil while stirring quickly with a wooden spoon. Before serving, taste the pesto and adjust the seasonings with salt.
Alternatively, you can use a food processor to streamline the process. First, pulse the garlic in the food processor to coarsely chop it, then add the nuts, cheese and salt. Process until finely ground, then add the basil. Drizzle the olive oil in a steady stream with the machine running, processing until smooth.
While traditional pesto calls for basil, pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, you can really use any mix of herbs, cheese and nuts that appeals to you. Here are some ingredients that work well.
Herbs: Parsley, arugula, cilantro, arugula, mint, or a combination of mixed herbs. We’ve also heard from chefs who make pesto from purslane that grows wild in their gardens!
Nuts: Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, pistachios
Cheese: Parmesan, pecorino, feta, goat cheese, pecorino. Choose either a hard cheese or a soft one — melting cheeses like Gruyere will not blend as well into the other ingredients.
Pasta and pizza are common canvases for pesto, and with good reason — a simple foundation lets the bright flavors shine. Try it also on top of meat, chicken and seafood, or toss it with roasted potatoes.
Pesto is also ideal for finishing dishes and using as a condiment. Spread it on sandwiches, stir into a bowl of soup, or thin it out with additional olive oil and use it as a salad dressing.
TIP: Pesto also freezes beautifully. Make a big batch and freeze it in an ice cube tray, then transfer the cubes to a plastic bag or sealed container for storage. That way, you can use it to enhance all kinds of dishes when inspiration strikes.