Pesto sauce is a flavorful, versatile Italian spread that can be served as a side or as a main dish. It’s easy to make, and it makes a delicious change from traditional red pasta sauce. It’s also an excellent source of nutrients, especially the healthy fats found in olive oil and nuts.
The basics of pesto are simple: basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and extra-virgin olive oil. But it’s the other ingredients that really bring this sauce to life.
1. Use fresh basil: This is one of the best ways to get pesto sauce that has a vibrant green color and strong flavor. You can pick up a bunch of basil from your farmers market, or you can make it yourself by growing your own at home (it’s a good idea to plant several varieties).
2. Use Parmigiano-Reggiano: This is the most authentic type of cheese for this recipe. You can buy it at any grocery store or you can make it yourself by grating a small amount of the fresh cheese with a cheese grater.
3. Use extra-virgin olive oil: This is the key to a delicious pesto sauce, so it’s important to buy the highest-quality oil you can afford. The best oils are cold-pressed and from Italy or California.
4. Use fresh garlic: This is another key to a great pesto sauce. Look for garlic bulbs that are heavy for their size, have dry outer skins, and no soft spots or sprouting.
5. Add lemon juice: This is optional, but it brings brightness and acidity to the pesto sauce. It’s also an easy way to keep it from turning brown or oxidizing.
6. Add a splash of butter: This is another option that doesn’t seem to be an essential addition, but it does help bind the sauce. You can add it to the food processor along with the olive oil and a pinch of salt.
7. Add a touch of nutritional yeast: This is a dairy-free substitute for Parmesan cheese that is just as delicious and helps add that classic salty nutty flavor.
8. Swap out pine nuts for other nuts: If you’re looking for a nut-free version of this recipe, try walnuts or almonds instead of pine nuts.
9. Use another hard, salty cheese: You can replace the Parmesan with Pecorino Romaro, Asiago, or aged manchego.
10. Freeze: This recipe freezes well, so you can thaw it and store it in the freezer for up to 3 months. If you want to freeze it in cubes, line an ice tray with plastic wrap and fill each cube with the pesto sauce.
You can also thaw the ice cubes and add them to a bowl with hot pasta. You can also store the pesto in a container or bottle, covered with plastic wrap to prevent it from oxidizing.
The best part about pesto is that it’s so versatile! It can be used as a topping for grilled chicken or fish, on pizzas, and even on salads. It’s a delicious and healthy change from the usual pasta sauce.