Pesto Made Without Basil?

When I think of pesto I immediately picture overgrown basil bushes, but basil isn’t the only herb used to make this flavorful green sauce! In fact, I have a recipe book with the simple title Pestos! that is full of recipes for preparing and using sauces made with almost every edible green leaf imaginable.

The process of making pesto is basically the same no matter what greens you might be using. Once you learn this process, you can create your own variations from ingredients you have in your kitchen instead of having to make a special shopping trip!

The ingredients:

Pesto begins with green herbs. Basil is the most obvious choice, but everything from rosemary to beet greens may find its way into a pesto. Strong herbs like oregano are best paired with something mild like spinach. Leafy greens like chard and kale fade into the background and can stretch small amounts of specialty herbs — like a fancy basil variety or cilantro — so that you can make a larger batch.

The second key ingredient is oil, usually EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil). I’ve also found that avocado oil works beautifully. Its flavor is subtle, making it pair well with mild herbs like carrot tops.

The third vital ingredient is nuts. Pine nuts are mild and creamy. Walnuts are creamy and bold. Almonds lend a rougher texture to the pesto, especially if roasted or toasted. Sunflower seeds fall somewhere between pine nuts and almonds.

Last come the other ingredients that add layers of flavor. Lemon juice cuts the bitterness of strong herbs while parmesan cheese or ground sesame seeds lend a subtle bite that plays well with the freshness of the greens. Salt and garlic need no fancy introduction.

The basic method:

Traditionally, pesto is made with a mortar and pestle. The tool of choice in our modern era is the food processor, and I find that a high-power blender (like a Vita-Mix or Blendtec) works great for large batches.

Begin with the greens, then add nuts and any other ingredients except the oil. Add just enough of the oil to help begin the blending process. Turn on the machine (if it has a variable speed, keep it low-med) and drizzle more oil over the mixture until it becomes smooth and blends easily. Stop the machine, scrape down the sides, and blend again until well combined.

Pesto with arugula or carrot tops:

This week’s CSA box contains some greens that are wonderful for pesto: arugula and carrot tops! You could, of course, experiment with your own blends of oil, nuts, and other ingredients to craft an original recipe. Or you could search the internet for tried-and-true combinations. Here are a couple recommended by Paula and Megan from Orie's Farm Fresh:

Martha Rose Shulman's Arugula Pesto

Karon Grieve’s Carrot Top Pesto

Leave a comment below telling us about your favorite pesto recipe!