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Pesto Change-O

Switch up summer’s favorite sauce with flavors that go beyond basil.

June/July 2017 Issue
Mixed Herb Pesto; photos by Scott Phillips
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Most people are familiar with basil pesto, that wonderfully fragrant basil purée flavored with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and cheese. The uncooked sauce, which hails from Genoa, gets its name from the Italian pestare, meaning to pound, because it’s traditionally made in a mortar and pestle. There’s no shortage of recipes for classic basil pesto. What I want to share with you are flavorful pestos you won’t find anywhere else, ones that feature ingredients such as smoky roasted peppers; ripe tomatoes and creamy ricotta; or figs, ginger, and—whoa!—grapefruit. And don’t worry: You don’t need to haul out the mortar and pestle; these whip up fast in a food processor.

Tame the garlic, skip the extra-virgin olive oil, and choose your nuts. These pestos include many of the same ingredients as the classic, including garlic for flavor and oil to smooth the texture and carry flavor. In a traditional basil pesto, the garlic goes in raw, but in many of these recipes, I tame its heat by blanching it in oil or roasting it to let the other flavors shine. Similarly, I use regular olive oil, not extra-virgin, because the latter can mask subtle flavors and tends to become bitter in the food processor. Since nuts are mild in flavor (they mostly add richness), you can use what’s on hand; if you don’t have the exact one called for, replace it with another.

Enjoy your pesto right away, or save for future good eating. There are many ways to enjoy pesto (see below for some ideas). All of these recipes make about 2 cups, and the pestos will keep, covered and refrigerated, for a few days. Even better, they can be portioned and frozen. When it’s time to grill a steak or make pizza, you have a secret weapon on hand for boosting flavor in an instant. Presto!

Put Your Pesto to Good Use

    • Serve with raw vegetables for crudités or with chips or pitas.
    • Drizzle over steamed, grilled, or roasted vegetables just before serving.
    • Smear on crostini and top with some cheese.
    • Toss with steamed or roasted potatoes.
    • Spread on sandwiches; it’s especially good in grilled cheese.
    • Whisk into a vinaigrette.
    • Flavor your favorite grain with a dollop after cooking.
    • Swirl into a hot or cold soup.
    • Sauce meat hot from the grill just before serving.
    • Spread on pizza before baking.
    • Layer in gratins and savory galettes.
    • Brush on top of just-baked bread or biscuits.

    Fennel and Fig Pesto


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