Pesto has to be the quintessential Italian sauce. It encompasses all that I love about Italian cuisine. Like many classic recipes there are endless variations. This traditional Genoese pesto combines fresh basil with pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil. It originates in Genoa, the capital of Italy’s Liguria region, where basil flourishes and is used extensively.
Homemade pesto tastes so much better than store-bought, so when fresh basil is plentiful we make big batches and freeze the rest in individual containers to use in the following simple and delicious ways:
Pesto and pasta: To make a classic Italian pasta dish, toss pesto with pasta, diced potatoes and green beans. Or stir some pesto into a bechamel sauce and layer in a lasagna.
Pesto and bread: Give sandwiches and wraps an Italian twist with a smear of pesto, such as our Italian tuna steak sandwich. Swap your usual tomato pizza sauce with pesto to make Pesto pizza with shrimp, zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes. Spread pesto on bruschetta and top with a tuna and white bean salad to create Pesto bruschetta topped with tuna, white bean, cherry tomato and artichoke salad.
Pesto in salads: Toss pesto with pasta, rice or potato salads. Thin pesto with a little white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to make a salad dressing to drizzle over sliced tomatoes and mozzarella for a version of caprese salad.
Pesto in soups, stews and risottos: If you don’t have fresh herbs on hand, stir a spoonful of pesto into soups like Minestrone and tomato-based stews such as Sicilian fish stew. Pesto can also be stirred into risottos towards the end of cooking.
Pesto and vegetables: Use pesto to elevate the flavor of simple vegetable side dishes — mix pesto into mashed potatoes (or dollop on a baked potato), smear pesto over grilled zucchini or eggplant, or toss pesto with cooked green beans.
Pesto in dips and spreads: Stir pesto into mayonnaise and use as a sandwich spread. Mix pesto with soft Italian cheeses like mascarpone or ricotta to make a tasty dip or filling for vegetables such as Grilled eggplant roll-ups with ricotta pesto.
⅓ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
⅓ cup pine nuts — lightly toasted
1 garlic clove — roughly chopped
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil