Learn how to make this versatile sauce at home

Pesto is one of the most infinitely versatile sauces you can make at home. Dating back as early as the 16th Century, this iconic sauce hails from the Genoa region of Italy. The word pesto comes from the verb pestare, meaning to step on or to pound, using a mortar and pestle. While some purists may take the time to slowly crush the garlic, pine nuts, baby basil leaves, salt and Parmesan cheese, today a trusty food processor does all of the work, which means having a jar on-hand is only the press of a button away.

These recipes are just guidelines, but really all you need is something fresh and green, herbs or baby greens or a combination of both, nuts or seeds, cheese or no cheese, and a healthy drizzle of olive oil to marry it all together.

Classic Pesto

Makes about 1½ cups (360 mL).

Traditionally only the small, baby leaves of the basil plant are used, but I’ve made it with large, fat leaves and results have been extraordinary. Pine nuts are classic, but also very expensive. Their lovely, buttery addition is more favourable than, say, almonds or walnuts but use what you can afford or have on hand. Parmigiano-Reggiano is the go-to cheese, but the bite of a pecorino would also suffice. Use the best extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil you can when making any raw sauce, particularly pesto. Spread on flatbread, swirled into soup, mixed with mayo for a sandwich spread, the possibilities are endless.

2 cups fresh basil, packed
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 cloves garlic
½ cup pine nuts (or almonds)
½ tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup (240 mL) extra virgin olive oil

Put all ingredients except oil in bowl of food processor. Pour in the olive oil while motor is running, and process until smooth, scraping down bowl of mixer once or twice.

Recipe: Flatbread with Pesto, Bocconcini and Cherry Tomatoes

Flatbread with Pesto, Bocconcini and Cherry Tomatoes

Arugula & Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Makes about 1½ cups (360 mL)

Sometimes fresh basil isn’t available, so it’s good to have a Plan B. Fresh greens such as arugula, baby kale and other less glamorous herbs, like parsley and marjoram, can fill in the gap. Pumpkin seeds are a great substitute for nuts – I appreciate their mild flavour with the more pungent hit of Asiago. Perfect for tossing with hot pasta, drizzling on roast vegetables or grilled steak and seafood; this one is a winner.

4 cups fresh arugula, lightly packed
½ cup asiago cheese, cut into chunks
½ cup pumpkin seeds
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp each salt and pepper
2 tsp (10 mL) maple syrup
1 cup (240 mL) extra virgin olive oil

In the bowl of a food processor, add all the ingredients except oil. Add oil while motor is running, processing until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Pesto should be smooth. Pour into container with tight fitting lid. Will keep in fridge for up to 2 weeks or can be frozen.

Recipe: Roast Asparagus with Argula and Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Roasted Asparagus with Arugula and Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Thai Pesto

Makes about 1¼ cups (300 mL)

With its Asian flavour profile and fresh, bright flavours, this pesto variation will be an instant hit in your kitchen. Stirred into noodles, tossed with steamed vegetables, even added to your next homemade burger filling, once you have a jar of this in your fridge you’ll wonder how you ever cooked without it.

½ cup peanuts, roasted and salted
½ cup cilantro leaves, packed
½ cup Thai basil leaves, packed
¼ cup mint leaves, packed
1 lime zest and juice
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbs chopped ginger
2 tsp (10 mL) maple syrup
1 tsp (5 mL) Sriracha sauce (or chili flakes)
½ tsp (2.5 mL) fish sauce
½ tsp salt
½ cup 120 mL) extra virgin olive oil.

Put all ingredients in bowl of food processor except oil. Add olive oil while motor is running, scraping down bowl once or twice. Pesto should be smooth. Pour into container with tight fitting lid.

Recipe: Pad Thai Salad

Pad Thai Salad

Photos by Renee Kohlman

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