October 6th, 2011

{recipe} Quick ‘n Healthy Roundup: Pesto

Green Olive & Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
Green Olive & Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

The fall/winter busy season has begun: back-to-school, Halloween, Thanksgiving and the rest. For some, ahem, you can throw in kid birthdays, too. I’ve got two that flank the holiday madness—one next week and the other on January 5th.

Though I love this time of year and all of the fun excuses to cook, celebrate, be with family and friends, it requires a great deal of planning and self-control to keep from going totally insane.

I created this mini-series of quick and healthy recipe roundups to help you build an arsenal of easy, go-to dishes and dinner solutions that I hope will save you from take-out when thing get busy. You know that I’ll proudly call grilled octopus family-friendly (hey, I ate it regularly as a tyke!), but I’m focusing this series on foods more commonly accepted as family-friendly. I kicked things off with a homemade pizza round-up and now we’re onto pesto.

Pesto is a family cook’s saving grace. You put ingredients in a food processor, whizz and, in seconds, have a sauce to toss with pasta, chicken, veggies or all three. (Precook your pasta and dinner is finished in 5 minutes!) Save leftovers to spread on sammy’s for school lunch or some crusty bread to accompany your next dinner. Genius.

The word pesto is derived from the Italian word meaning “to pound” or “to crush.” The sauce originated in Genoa where pesto, now sometimes called “pesto alla genovese,” is traditionally made with garlic, basil and pine nuts blended with olive oil and cheese, usually Parmesan or Pecorino. Today, all around the world, pesto has become so much more than the famous green basil sauce of northern Italy. A google search will show up recipes for pesto made with nearly every herb, from cilantro to lemon balm.

And that’s the thing about pesto: it’s endlessly versatile. In fact, you can skip the herbs all together. Spinach, kale, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula—they all make pesto. Traditional? Not necessarily. Delicious? Absolutely.

Once you make pesto, I encourage you to be creative about how you use it. It’s not just for pasta (though I won’t complain to see you use it that way, especially if you finish with a pat of butter and splash of cream). You can also use pesto to:

* marinate meat or veggies
* dress up your pizza
* flavor your salad dressing
* spread on your sammy
* add zing to your eggs
* brighten your marinara
* toss with beans

While pesto comes together on the fly in plenty of time for a 15-minute meal, it also freezes well. Make a big batch and freeze in an ice cube tray. Transfer cubes to a freezer bag and you’re good to go.

Here are some of my favorite pesto recipes:

Kale and Walnut Pesto
kale walnut pesto picture

Ramp Pistachio pesto
(you can substitute spring onions or leeks, depending on the season)
Ramp Pesto

Almond Arugula Pesto
Almond Arugula Pesto

And my new favorite, also pictured at the very top…

Green Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.
Green Olive Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto close up

Beware: this stuff is addictive!

What’s your favorite pesto recipe? Share your ideas, recipes and links here.

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