Pesto is a wonderful sauce that complements so many types of food. Originating in Italy in the city of Genoa in the 16th century, pesto was a sauce that was made by crushing garlic, basil and pine nuts then tossing it with Parmesan cheese and olive oil.
Not much has changed since the 16th century. However, the term “pesto” has become a phrase associated with any kind of sauce that’s made by grinding herbs down in a blender. To me, pesto is only made with fresh basil and garlic.
But pesto can be a problem for some people, especially pregnant women. The garlic and basil, or sometimes the nuts, can be too bitter or spicy and cause heartburn. Too much Parmesan cheese makes it too salty and the wrong amount of olive oil makes the sauce too runny. I think I’ve come up with just the right balance of ingredients to keep the pesto tasting fresh and herbal but without the strong bite or after taste of the garlic.
Ways to eat pesto
- Over your favorite pasta as a quick dinner
- As a spread for sandwiches instead of mayonnaise
- Tossed with shrimp
- Spread lightly over roasted chicken
- Added to roasted vegetables like roasted potatoes or broccoli
Ways to change up the classic
For extra sweetness, try tossing in ½ cup of thawed, cooked, or leftover peas. In the spring or summer, add in fresh mint leaves from the garden to create a smoother, sweeter taste. Pesto’s possibilities are endless!
- 2 cups fresh basil (leaves only, stems removed)
- ½ cup fresh spinach (leaves only, stems removed)
- ½ cup thawed green peas
- ¼ cup fresh mint leaves
- 2 medium garlic cloves peeled
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or walnuts
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup fresh grated Parmesan (avoid using commercially-packaged grated Parmesan. Fresh works best!)
- Combine basil, spinach, peas, mint and nuts in a food processor. Process until finely minced.
- While the processor is running on low, slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil through the feed tube until the mixture is smooth.
- Add the cheese and process on low for 30 to 45 seconds to combine.
- Store in the refrigerator up to one week, or in the freezer for up to two weeks.
- Serving suggestions: Toss with your favorite pasta or use as a topping for grilled or baked chicken, pork, salmon, or shrimp. Works great as a spread for sandwiches as a healthier alternative to mayonnaise (for example, with these Turkey Pesto Roll Ups!)