Summer has arrived and basil plants are in full swing. Around here, that means one thing: It’s pesto season! When you use the perfect proportions of the freshest possible ingredients, you can make a to-die-for pesto that’s perfect for pasta, grilled chicken, pizza, and more. If you want to know how to make pesto to perfection every time, just follow our guide.
The History of Pesto
Before we jump into the ins and outs of pesto, let’s start by looking at the history of this incredible sauce. Pesto hails from the Liguria region in Northwest Italy, where basil crops grow like crazy. The first actual pesto recipe was written down in 1863. But before that, Roman citizens were eating a paste called moretum, made from from fresh herbs, garlic, salt, cheese, olive oil, and vinegar…sounds familiar, right? Ever since the 1860s, Italians and Europeans have been making homemade pesto with the same classic ingredients: fresh basil leaves, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper. Other fun pesto facts:
Choosing Pesto Ingredients
When you’re in a pinch, there’s nothing wrong with using store-bought pesto (we offer some delicious pesto varieties). However, homemade pesto made from fresh ingredients is more flavorful and complex than what you can buy in a jar. So if you plan to make your own pesto, start by getting the freshest ingredients you can find. Here’s a breakdown of what you need:
If you or your loved one has a special dietary need, you can make simple substitutions that won’t compromise your pesto’s flavor:
If you love the idea of pesto, but you don’t love basil, use other herbs and greens such as arugula, kale, parsley, marjoram, or mint.
How to Make Homemade Pesto
Ready to make pesto? The first thing you need to do is gather your ingredients. Remember: the fresher they are, the better your pesto will taste.
Making good classic pesto is all about using perfect combination of ingredients and proportions to yield the best flavor and consistency. Here’s a good place to start:
Traditional pesto was made with a mortar and pestle–and if you have the time (and the arm strength) we recommend that you try this method at some point! Using a mortar and pestle yields the freshest possible pesto. However, you can always use a food processor or a blender to speed things up.
To make pesto, simply add garlic, basil, nuts, cheese, and salt to a food processor. Pulse these ingredients until they form a thick paste. Then slowly add the olive oil in a thin stream while the machine is running. Continue processing the ingredients until they are blended together. You want your pesto to have some texture, but if it’s too thin or thick it won’t evenly cover a dish of pasta. Here’s how you can tell: A spoonful of pesto should slowly run off of the spoon. If it runs off quickly, it’s too thin. If it’s stuck to the spoon, it’s too thick!
Once the ingredients come together, let the taste-testing begin! Adjust the ingredients to your tastes and then use the pesto immediately or store it in the fridge for a few days.
How to Use Pesto
Pasta with pesto is a traditional dish in Liguria–and it’s simple to make! Cook about a pound of pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Lightly drain the pasta and then add it to a large bowl. Top with fresh pesto and toss until the dish is well combined. If necessary, add some pasta water to help the ingredients come together. Serve immediately!
Here are some other inventive ways to use fresh pesto:
Once you figure out how to make a classic pesto recipe, have fun experimenting with other greens and ingredients. Consider using hazelnuts, sundried tomatoes, goat cheese, chives, and other flavor combinations to push your tastes to the next level. Mangia!
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