Pesto might just be one of my favorite things in the culinary world. Period. It’s so fresh, and vibrant, and, well, green. I can’t think of a better example of how simple ingredients can come together in incredible ways. It also happens to be one of the most versatile condiments there is.
The most classic of all pestos are made with fresh basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil. Simple and delicious. And yet, none of these ingredients are set in stone. They are like individual parts to a machine, independent from one another, yet all working together to make a whole. Once you understand the inner workings, each component can be plucked from its place and substituted with another, making it infinitely adaptable.
Basically what all this means is, you can use whatever ingredients you want! Once you’ve got the fundamentals, tinkering with the recipe is easy. (Just don’t tell the Italians.)
Basil can be substituted with most any other greens, from spinach or arugula, to parsley, radish greens, mint, or chives. Those oh-so-pricey pine nuts aren’t 100% necessary, either, and can be swapped for whatever nuts or seeds you like. Walnuts are a favorite of mine, but almonds, cashews, and even pistachios would work just as well. As for the parmesan, any hard cheese will do (pecorino is a great, less-expensive substitute), or it can be left out all together if you’d prefer to make your pesto vegan (just be sure to add an extra pinch of salt). And of course, other ad-ins are always welcome. A splash of lemon juice, a bit of rosemary or sage, a touch of red chili flakes… the only requirement when it comes to making your own pesto is that each ingredient be as fresh and flavorful as possible.
I guess what I’m trying to saying is, pesto is all about you. Whatever you like, how you like it, put into a blender and lathered on everything. That’s what I’m talking about.
Luckily for us pesto lovers, there are just as many ways to use the stuff as there are options for making it. Some of my favorites are:
- As a sauce on pasta (thin the pesto slightly with a ladle full of pasta water – this will also help the pesto cling to the noodles). (Find my recipe for Caprese Pasta Salad, here.)
- Spread on a slice of fresh, crusty bread. It doesn’t get much better than that, unless you want to go ahead and put some tomato and mozzarella on there, too.
- Swirled or braided into a loaf of homemade bread. Preferably with lots of parmesan baked on top.
- Served atop fish or other seafood. (You can check out my recipe for Tilapia with Arugula Walnut Pesto, here.)
- As a marinade or dressing for meat, fish, or tofu.
- Tossed with warm, roasted potatoes or other vegetables. Or, mashed into potatoes. Actually, I just thought of that one, but it sounds amazing.
- Or, oozing out of a grilled cheese sandwich, served with a bowl of garden fresh tomato soup. (Sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it? Get the recipe here)