Chef Notes: Your Pesto Guide

Chef Notes: Your Pesto Guide

I don’t know about you but I’ve had a bumper crop of herbs this year, in particular my basil, sage, and parsley. As the summer is winding down (yeah I’m in a bit of denial here) I’m starting to think about what to do with all of those fresh herbs in my garden. I just can’t bring myself to let them die, not when I think about how barren the winter will be and how wonderful it would be to have the freshness of summer present in my winter stews, braises, and roasts.

Spinach Pesto Prep2

Take a pesto. They’re a great way to turn your herbs into a sauce that will give a myriad of dishes phenomenal flavor. However, we tend to think of pesto firstly as basil based and secondly as something you stir into pastas or spread on crostini. The fact is you can make pesto out of any herb and you can use them as rubs and as flavorings. In fact, I save small jars all year so that when pesto-season-making arrives, I’ve got plenty of receptacles. The only other equipment you will need is a blender or food processor, although a canning funnel is also a time saver.

Now, the recipes are not really recipes. They are guidelines. You need to keep in mind the desired thickness of pesto and use the appropriate amount of oil, and you can add or leave out ingredients as you see fit. Maybe you don’t want parmesan cheese in all of your basil pesto. Maybe you’re not a big garlic lover and want to leave it out.  Or maybe all you want are the herbs and oil. It’s up to you. The following are just ideas and examples of what I’ve done in the past.  Feel free to mix it up and get creative.  If you come up with a new mix let me know.  By the way, I don’t use extra virgin olive oil in my pestos. I make so many jars that it becomes prohibitively expensive. Another important tip is to leave about ½ inch or so from top of the jar and top it with a layer of olive oil. Anytime you use a bit out of a jar, smooth out the surface and top with oil again. In the refrigerator, a jar is good for several weeks. You should toss it if you see any evidence of mold forming. In the freezer, jars will last for several months. I try to finish all of mine by the time fresh herbs are once again available from my garden.

Basil Pesto

Fresh Basil leaves
1 cup whole walnuts or ½ cup pine nuts
Heaping ½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons jarred, minced garlic
Kosher salt
Coarsely ground pepper
2 Lemons, zest and juice
Olive oil

Uses:  pasta, marinara sauce, pizza sauce, crostini, pizza, chicken, roast beef, shrimp

Sage Pesto

Fresh sage leaves
Heaping ½ cup Pecorino cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons jarred, minced garlic
Kosher salt
Coarsely ground pepper
2 teaspoons nutmeg, freshly grated
Olive oil

Uses:  pasta, pizza, turkey/any poultry, pork roast

Oregano Pesto

Fresh oregano leaves
Heaping ½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons jarred, minced garlic
Kosher salt
Coarsely ground pepper
Olive oil

Uses:  marinara sauce, pizza sauce, roast beef, lamb roast/lamb chops

Parsley Pesto

Fresh Parsley leaves
2 tablespoons jarred, minced garlic
Kosher salt
Coarsely ground pepper
Olive oil

Uses:  sauces/gravies, soups, stews, all meats/seafood, mashed potatoes, rice

Cilantro Pesto

Fresh cilantro leaves
1 Fresh jalapeno or Serrano pepper, finely minced (or more per your taste)
2 tablespoons jarred, minced garlic
Kosher salt
Coarsely ground pepper
2 Limes, zest & juice
Olive oil

Uses:  guacamole, sour cream dips, salsas, most Mexican recipes

Method

Fill your blender loosely with herb leaves, remaining ingredients, a couple pinches of salt & pepper, and about ½ cup of olive oil, blend on medium adding more oil as needed until your blender is running smoothly. Stop and scrape the sides down a couple of times. Blend until mostly smooth but not like a smoothie. Spoon into jars, top with oil, label, and freeze.

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