To most of us, pesto - the classic, bright green sauce from Northern Italy - means an intoxicating blend of basil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan. But in Italian, pesto simply means "pounded," since the ingredients were traditionally ground by hand with a mortar and pestle. In today's modern kitchen, a food processor or blender produces a smooth sauce in seconds without the hard work.
While pesto is a natural match for hot pasta, its intense flavour is ideal for dishes beyond linguini. Spread it on pizza dough instead of tomato sauce; dip bread in it for a zippy appetizer; marinate chicken in it before grilling; toss it into a cold pasta salad for added spice; or dollop some in your soup for a savoury garnish.
Bored with classic pesto? Spice things up with one or all of the following variations:
Lemon basil: For a brighter taste, substitute some or part of the regular basil with its lemony cousin.
Lemon zest: Can't find lemon basil? Brighten the dish with some lemon zest.
Roasted walnuts: Instead of pine nuts, try roasted walnuts. For an added kick, substitute roasted walnut oil for half of the olive oil.
Roasted garlic: Mellow things out by using roasted garlic instead of raw.
If you're ready to leave basil behind and try something completely different, here are two variations to spark your culinary imagination.
Cilantro, avocado oils and roasted cashews give this pesto variation a South American twist. Peridot green avocado oil adds a buttery undertone and enhances its signature colour. If you can't find avocado oil, simply use olive oil or canola instead.
1 bunch cilantro leaves (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 lemon, zest, juice and pulp
1/3 cup avocado oil (olive oil or canola will do)
1/3 cup roasted cashews
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
In a blender or food processor, grind the cilantro, garlic and lemon until well blended. Slowly incorporate the oil, blending as you go. Once smooth, add the cashews and Parmesan, continuing to blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.