One of the most inspiring culinary trends over the past decade has been the explosive growth of all kinds of condiments, including flavored mustards, salsas and pestos. At one time, pesto was narrowly defined as a paste (hence the name) of fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan.
No longer. Now pesto can be made using other vegetables, from roasted red peppers to broccoli, as well as other herbs (either with or instead of basil). Olive oil, Parmesan and garlic are integral, but almonds or walnuts sometimes replace the pine nuts. What most types of pesto do have in common is that they are usually tossed with some pasta variety—although many cooks like to branch out by spreading it on grilled meats and fish.
Summer presents the ideal opportunity for experimenting with different kinds of pesto because fresh veggies and herbs are readily available, and light pasta dinners are appropriate for warm-weather dining. Here’s a quartet of adventurous pesto recipes for you to sample.
If you, like some people, find the taste of a classic basil pesto to be too strong, then you’ll enjoy this variation, which owes its milder flavor to Italian parsley.
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup packed Italian (flat leaf) parsley leaves
5 large garlic cloves
1 cup olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
In a food processor, combine the first 3 ingredients, processing until finely chopped. With motor running, add the oil through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream until combined. Add the cheese and salt to taste, and process until blended. To serve, toss with 1 pound cooked and drained linguine, adding in a little extra olive oil or butter if desired. Serves 4.
Fans of one of our healthiest vegetables will especially like this version.
1 bunch of broccoli
½ cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Remove the flowerets from the broccoli stalks; reserve the stalks for another use (such as soups or casseroles). Cook the flowerets in boiling salted water until very tender—about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Meanwhile, in a small non-stick skillet, cook the pine nuts and garlic over medium-low heat, stirring, until pale golden. Place the broccoli, pine nuts, garlic, reserved cooking liquid, Parmesan and olive oil in the container of a food processor and process until smooth. Add salt and process again. Taste and correct seasoning. Makes enough for 1 pound of pasta.
Here’s another healthy green vegetable that makes a tasty and colorful pesto. A delicious presentation is to combine the pesto with linguine, slivered ham, cherry tomato halves and additional Parmesan.
1 (10 ounce) bag fresh spinach
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3 tablespoons slivered blanched almonds
½ teaspoon salt
Soak the spinach (both leaves and stems) in warm water for 10 minutes, changing the water once. Drain very well, using paper towels to blot up the excess moisture. Place half the spinach in container of food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Process until finely chopped. Add the remaining spinach and process until the mixture forms a thick puree. Makes enough for 1 pound of pasta; serve as suggested above.
ROASTED RED PEPPER PESTO
The natural sweetness and vivid color of red bell peppers are put to good use in this innovative, low-fat treatment, which uses neither nuts nor cheese, but which is full of robust flavor. Another unique twist—because it uses cilantro, the mixture has a decidedly southwestern accent. If you prefer a more conventional profile, substitute basil leaves. The pesto tastes best when mixed with angel hair pasta and served chilled.
4 red bell peppers
¼ cup fresh cilantro or basil leaves
¼ cup fat-free chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Pinch of cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
To roast the peppers, place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil 6 inches from the heat source, turning often, until charred on all sides. Remove from the oven, and place in a paper bag until cool enough to handle. Peel away the charred skin; cut peppers open, and remove the seeds and ribs. Place the peppers in the container of a food processor with the remaining ingredients, and process until smooth. Toss with ½ pound cooked and drained angel hair pasta, cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Serves 2 as a main dish, 3 to 4 as a side dish.