food, garden

Pesto Two Ways

I love making massive quantities of pesto this time of year.  Herbs and greens are in abundance, whether in your own garden or at the farmer's market, and because pesto freezes so well, making big batches is a great way to preserve the freshness of summer to enjoy throughout the year.

While basil pesto is the classic, and probably still my favorite, did you know that there are as many types of pesto as there are greens?  Pesto, a term for pounding, is simply a sauce made by "pounding" together greens, nuts, hard cheese, garlic, and oil.

So why is this post titled "Pesto Two Ways" when there are countless variations?  It's because they're all made basically the same way, with one exception: when using a fresh herb like basil, cilantro, or parsley, the raw leaves are added to the mixture.  However, when using a hardier green like collards or chard, the leaves should be blanched first to soften their texture and mellow their flavor.

When I made my collard green pesto last week, I triple washed an insane amount.  Then I dropped the whole lot of leaves -- stems removed and discarded -- into a big pot of boiling salted water for one minute only.  I then immediately transferred them to bowls of ice water.  This process softens the leaves and sets the gorgeous bright green color while preventing them from overcooking.  After draining and squeezing all the water out of the leaves, they were ready to meet their pesto destiny just like their herby brethren.

Beyond leaf choice, there are so many other ways to change up pesto.  Any hard cheese is suitable, for example.  Parmesan is the classic, but pecorino, aged gouda, and manchego are all excellent.  While pine nuts are traditional and delicious, they are pretty pricey and there are so many nuts and seeds that will work in pesto like sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, and walnuts.  

Try switching up how you use your pesto, too.  Tossed with pasta is the go-to route for pesto for good reason, but slathered on homemade rolls it's just as good.  I use it as a sauce on pizza, a dipper for cucumber spears and tortilla chips, a spread on sandwiches, and a flavor enhancer in other sauces like marinara.

Pesto will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator with a thin film of oil on top.  Beware, though, that if you use the lemon juice I suggest here (and do -- the sauce benefits greatly from that hit of acid!) your pesto will turn a darker color rather quickly.  However, if you freeze it, the flavor and color will be preserved for months.  I like to portion it into ice cube trays and freeze until solid, then pop them out into freezer bags.  When you need a pesto fix, just defrost as many cubes as you need for an hour at room temperature.  Enjoy the flavors of summer all winter long.

Herb Pesto

makes 2 cups

  • 8 cups fresh herb leaves
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup toasted nuts or seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup freshly grated hard cheese
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a blender for a smooth consistency, in a food processor for a medium grind, or in a mortar and pestle for a very chunky result.  Process until fully combined.

Note: Please reference above post for ingredient and storage suggestions.

Greens Pesto

makes 2 cups

  • 10 cups hardy greens, stems removed
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup toasted nuts or seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup freshly grated hard cheese
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Plunge greens into a large pot of boiling salted water for one minute.  Immediately transfer greens to a bowl of ice water.  Drain and discard the water then squeeze the leaves with your hands to remove as much water as possible from the greens.  Coarsely chop.  Combine ingredients in a blender for a smooth consistency, in a food processor for a medium grind, or in a mortar and pestle for a very chunky result.  Process until fully combined.

Note: Please reference above post for ingredient and storage suggestions.