Pesto is the perfect way to add the richness, warmth and freshness of summertime to foods all year long. I like to use zip lock type plastic freezer bags to store pesto in the freezer. This method of storage makes it simple to break off a small portion for a recipe. Make sure to press out all the air so that the color will be maintained. You may also freeze pesto in ice cube trays, then remove from the trays and bag the cubes for easy portions of pesto. Or, put it into a freezer safe container and cover the top with a thin layer of oil to keep the color fresh.
Don’t stop with just basil in your pesto! Use lemon basil for a lively pesto. Make pesto with cilantro when basil is no longer in season. Use oregano and parsley or dill with parsley or add some zip with fresh arugula with your choice of herbs. Tarragon or mint would also make an interesting pesto. Spinach or sorrel leaves may also be used to make pesto. Remove any large stems before using.
Use walnuts, pecans, almonds, macadamia nuts or pumpkin seeds instead of the traditional pine nuts. Toasting the nuts or seeds before adding them to the pesto brings out more of their flavor. Toast in the oven or a dry skillet, but avoid burning them, just get them lightly browned.
Add roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, olives, chipotle chilies, artichoke hearts, or roasted eggplant to vary the flavor of your pesto. Try using a variety of cheeses besides Parmesan. Use Romano, cream cheese, havarti, or even blue cheese. Your choice of herbs will dictate which cheese will be appropriate.
To reduce the calorie content of pesto use garbanzo beans, English peas or well drained firm tofu to replace some of the oil and cheese in the basic recipe. Adding a splash of balsamic vinegar or chardonnay will add zest and character to your pesto.
Here are some ideas for using your stored pesto:
- Top a salmon filet with pesto and refrigerate for 10 minutes to an hour. Bake or broil at 400 degrees until it reaches the desired level of doneness – 8 to 10 minutes for a one inch thick filet.
- Add to your favorite cooked pasta and toss in a colorful mix of vegetables for a quick pasta salad.
- Use on a pizza shell instead of tomato sauce. My favorite toppings with pesto are artichokes, olives, peppers and mushrooms.
- Use pesto in the egg yolk mixture when making deviled eggs. Mix in firm tofu or pureed garbanzo beans to replace half the egg yolks to reduce cholesterol.
- Mix with low fat sour cream or yogurt cheese for a quick and easy dip.
- Trim off the stem end of fresh tomatoes. Cut a little off the bottom if necessary so the tomatoes stand up well. Top with pesto and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes are somewhat browned and tender.
- Spread Panini bread with pesto and top with grilled vegetables for a hearty and delicious sandwich.
- Top extra firm tofu that has been well drained with a bit of pesto and bake at 400 degrees until heated through, about 10 minutes.
- Use a teaspoon of pesto to top soups: tomato soup, minestrone, vegetable soups.
- Mix pesto with cream cheese and top a toasted bagel.
Basic Basil Pesto Recipe
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 cups basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- ¾ cup olive oil
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
Turn the food processor on and add the garlic to the machine. Remove the cover, add the basil leaves. Pulse until chopped evenly and finely. Add the pine nuts and process until they are smooth.
Slowly drizzle the olive oil in through the top opening with the machine running. Add the cheese and process until smooth.
Makes about 1 ½ cup of pesto. Keep refrigerated for up to one week or freeze.