You’re pretty familiar with pesto, right? It’s that green, garlicky sauce that’s synonymous with basil, blender, and pasta. But, what if someone told you pesto is actually something more?
Well, I’ll be that someone: pesto sauce isn’t always what recipes and restaurants give you on paper and plates. Put down that cookbook directing you to buy fresh basil and pine nuts. Instead, pick up an Italian dictionary. You’ll discover the word “pesto” comes from a verb that means “to pound or crush.” During the Middle Ages, the forebear of pesto was made by crushing walnuts and garlic in a mortar and pestle.
In essence, pesto is a process, not a set list of ingredients.
That opens up a whole world of pesto recipe possibilities. For Italians in the northwest town of Genoa, basil is a key ingredient because it’s an abundant regional crop. The result is the Genovese pesto we all know and love. But, pesto doesn’t stop there. Just take a trip to your garden or your local farmer’s market, pick out some fresh produce, and prepare to be amazed with what you can transform into a pesto. Don’t like pine nuts, or can’t find them? You can make pesto without pine nuts—or any nuts, for that matter. And unless you really want to, you don’t have to labor through the process with a mortar and pestle. Plug in that food processor, blend up your ingredients with a few spatula scrapes here and there, and unearth the versatility of this sauce.
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To get you started, I’ve included eight recipes to get you on your way to pesto-pro status. There’s the classic basil pesto, plus seven variations for every taste and every time of year. Each recipe yields one to two cups so you can have fun incorporating pesto sauce into other recipes.
All of these pestos will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze for up to three months.
To freeze pesto, line a baking sheet with waxed paper and spoon pesto in ¼ cup portions onto the sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer, and when pesto is frozen solid, wrap them individually in plastic, seal them in an airtight plastic container, and store them in the freezer. (You can, if you like, freeze smaller portions of pesto in ice trays, wrapping the individual cubes in the same manner.)