When I say “Pesto” do you immediately think of “a bright green sauce based on basil, Parmesan and nuts”, don’t you?
Well… if you answered yes, you are right, as these are the most popular products used to make this classic Italian recipe. However, keep in mind that the name pesto comes from the verb pestare which means “to grind”.
So, technically, any ingredients that we grind together could be called pesto.
And that, for a foodie, is quite exciting, isn’t it?
I am quite sure you can find many recipes on how to make a good pesto or how to substitute ingredients to spice it up a little bit and create a great sauce with a different taste than just the traditional one.
However, I would suggest following the original recipe at least once before starting to experiment. This will give you a good idea on how the right consistency (and taste) should be like, so in the future you would know what your goal is. This will allow you to be creative and also be able to adjust the sauce easily as well.
The recipe I am using is based on the official one but during the years I have been adapting it to my personal taste. I also like to swap pine nuts to other kind of nuts and my favorite ones are Pistachios.
-60g of toasted pistachios
-100g of basil leaves
-55g Extra Virgin Olive Oil
-80g of Parmesan cheese
-1 small, peeled garlic clove
-4 crushed ice cubes
Mix together the dry ingredients in a blender, add the crushed ice and start blending. Add the oil little by little until smooth. Taste and fix the seasoning.
Other variations and suggestions
If you would like to be creative and experiment a bit more, try substituting Basil with Rucola, Kale, Ramson (this one is a killer one!), Asparagus, Sundried Tomatoes, Roasted Peppers, even Beetroot if you feel adventurous enough and the list could go on and on…
One of my favorite pesto combinations of all time are Rucola & Walnut, Tomato & Almond (with Ricotta instead of Parmesan), Lemon Zest & Artichokes and also roasted Pumpkin & Pumpkin Seeds!
As you can imagine, the number of possibilities is quite endless!
Tips from the professional kitchen
Now that we have covered the basics (and a bit more), this still leaves us with the question on how to make this perfect pesto sauce as there are some guidelines to follow that will make any grinded sauce taste and look much better!
Do not heat your pesto! – Whenever you are making pesto with herbs (any herbs) remember that you should never heat it up, not even for a moment, or the nice bright green looking sauce will turn into a sad yellow/grey sauce. For this reason, many chefs are putting some crushed ice in the mix and keep the ingredients (and the tools!) in the fridge until the very last moment.
Play it small – Pesto is a very aromatic and delicate sauce. For this reason, you should prepare it and consume it immediately. However, if you would like to prepare a bit more, make sure your sauce is covered with a thin layer of oil. This will prevent air from getting in contact with the sauce and oxidizing it.
Get the best ingredients – Like in many other Italian recipes, the secret is in picking the best possible ingredients you are able to find and get.
Taste, taste, taste – Following a recipe is always good but basil (and oil, parmesan and all the other ingredients) never taste exactly the same. Just taste the pesto after every step.
Use your pesto creatively – Pesto is great to season pasta, it’s true, but it is also amazing with so many other dishes! Try to put it on top of roasted vegetables, use it as a dip for crudités and a stronger tasting pesto also goes very well with poultry and some fish dishes. Seasoning your salads with a touch of pesto will make them more special and even a quick snack as a burrata can become a “gourmet” bite with the right piece of bread and some pesto!
I have a feeling you are now more than ready to experiment and create your own perfect pesto sauce!
I am also always very happy to hear and see what you come up with, so don’t forget to tag me on social media or leave a comment here below!