Welcome to Pesto 101. A few days ago I had never considered making pesto at home. In fact, I never much thought of pesto period. Now I think I am an expert capable of teaching anyone who reads this post how to become a homemade pesto expert. Why such bold confidence? Because it is easy. Super easy. When someone who wondered why the word “winter” was used to described this pesto recipe (yes, that would be me) can come so far so quickly, I know anyone else can too.
Lesson 1: History
Traditional pesto recipes call for basil. Since fresh basil is hard to come by at the end of January, spinach steps in. Not to worry though, this winter pesto still gets a good dose of flavor from dried basil.
Lesson 2: Health
I am not a nutritionist, but I like to think I have at least an ounce of nutritional sense. My instinct was this pesto is a fairly healthy recipe given it is packed full of a dark leafy greens and healthy fats from the walnuts and olive oil. Turns out I was partially right. This Top 10 Green Vegetables ranks spinach at number 5. It also discusses walnuts at the eighth most nutrient-dense nut.
Lesson 3: Math
Pesto = green vegetable + nuts + olive oil + cheese + garlic. Such a simple equation lends itself to seemingly endless variations. Any of the vegetables on the Top 10 list could lend themselves to pesto. As far as nuts go, traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts, but why not try cashews or almonds or pecans or even pumpkin seeds? Asiago or Romano cheeses are good substitutes for the Parmesan. But you must use garlic. It keeps colds and vampires away, so there is really no arguing on this point.
Lesson 4: Home Ec
The only thing that equals the number of ways to make pesto is the number of uses for pesto. As you see here, I slathered it on some bread that I first toasted with a bit of olive oil in a cast iron skillet. I also tossed it with a bowl of pasta. If you go this route, reserve a bit of the water from the cooked pasta to thin the pesto sauce. Though I have yet to do it, I will likely use up the rest of my pesto by adding it to a grilled cheese sandwich or a quesadilla. I might also stir it into a scrambled egg or use it as a topping for a baked potato or a piece of chicken. Pesto is also great as a pizza sauce or as a layer between lasagna noodles. The ever-helpful Food Network has a list of 50 Things to Make with Pesto for other ideas.
Pesto is easy to freeze for use in the future. (This is the best way to enjoy summer basil pesto in the winter.) To freeze a batch of pesto, leave the cheese out of the initial preparation and add it in before use. Use an ice cube tray to freeze individual portions. Then transfer the blocks of pesto to a Ziploc bag once frozen. Thaw and use as needed.
After realizing how easy it is to make pesto – it took me all of 15 minutes to blend the ingredients and clean up the dishes – I plan to make it again and again. I hope you will too. Enjoy!
- 3 cups spinach leaves, tightly packed
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- ¼ walnuts
- ½ cup olive oil, plus a bit extra for storing
- ⅔ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Process all ingredients but the cheese and salt in a food processor until smooth.
- Stir in the cheese and salt until blended. It may be necessary to transfer the processed spinach mixture into a bowl for this step.
- The pesto will keep in a container sealed with a lid for up to two weeks when refrigerated. Be sure to pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil on top of the pesto when storing to prevent it from drying out.