Pesto earns its moniker from the Genoese word ‘pestâ’, which means ‘to pound’ or ‘crush’. Traditionally, all of the ingredients for pesto were ground in a marble mortar, so, strictly speaking, pesto can refer to any sauce made by grinding together ingredients. Typical iterations of pesto blend some form of nut with a leafy green, Italian hard cheese, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. While basil and pine nut is the marriage that springs to mind, there is a plethora of pesto possibilities at your fingertips, all you require is a little gastronomic creativity, and any combination of the aforementioned base ingredients.
This ideology aligns with our current aim, to create delicious pasta dishes from ingredients already present in our kitchens. In light of the situation surrounding Covid 19, we don’t want to encourage a scavenger hunt for fine and exotic foods. Instead, we implore you to turn to your pantry, dusting off overlooked ingredients and injecting new life into these culinary components. What better way than with the purposefully rustic (and flexible by name) pesto?
As a guide, we offer our recipe for pesto alla Genovese. Armed with this tried-and-tested recipe, we encourage you to explore a number of pesto combinations using your existing kitchen reserves. To spur your culinary creativity, below are a number of potential pesto pairings for you to source inspiration, or perhaps try at home.
Our pesto alla Genovese recipe
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Calories per serving: 250 kcals
- 4 cups basil
- 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated (In lieu of this DOP product, use any Italian hard cheese you have to hand)
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Salt to taste
- Pestle and mortar
Follow along as our chef Roberta makes this basil pesto recipe in the video below.
Chef’s tip: If you don’t have a pestle and mortar at home, you can use a food processor. We like a pesto that has a slightly rustic texture, so be sure not to over grind.
- Start by gently toasting the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over medium-high heat until fragrant and slightly browned in colour. Be sure to keep them moving to prevent burning. In the case that any get dark brown, be sure to remove them before adding to the basil as they will impart a burnt flavour to the pesto.
- Put the basil, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, minced garlic clove and 2 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil to a pestle and mortar and grind until creamy
- Add the pine nuts and grind until they start to break down and combine with the oil and basil mixture. You should have a creamy yet slightly chunky consistency.
- Drizzle the remaining olive oil and continue to grind until you have a creamy paste. We recommend leaving it a little rustic as this will help it adhere to the pasta
- The pesto is best eaten straight away, but can be kept in clean mason jars and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Our favourite alternative pesto pairings
Swap out pine nuts for almonds and basil for fragrant parsley in this unique recipe. Maintain a healthy amount of Italian hard cheese and garlic, and add a touch of nutmeg to amplify the nutty flavour. Just be sure to blanch your almonds in advance, so they’re easier to crush.
Spinach is readily available, and a regular fixture in a lot of weekly shops, in a way fresh herbs perhaps are not. Perfect in pesto, the bright and green flavour of fresh spinach pairs excellently with mild and buttery walnuts. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to your mixture, to add vibrancy to this comforting pesto recipe.
Lemon & pistachio pesto
Zesty lemon juice brings this flavoursome pesto to life, and while any leafy green would work here, we recommend using fragrant basil. Here at Pasta Evangelists HQ, we regularly substitute the classic pine nut for the sweet and rich pistachio. In fact, we’re so confident in this pesto pairing that it serves as one of our signature dishes (and we have a blog post dedicated to pistachio pesto)!
Asparagus and lemon pesto (vegan)
Fresh asparagus form the centrepiece of this vegan pesto dish - a rugged sauce that pairs the vegetable with vibrant lemon and fragrant basil. Though we omit the usual formaggio in our plant-based recipe, this pesto still retains its signature creaminess, thanks to rich pine nuts and high quality extra virgin olive oil (in a recipe of so few components, sourcing quality ingredients is key).
Sun-dried tomatoes are a convenient ingredient to keep in one’s culinary arsenal, as a reliable, shelf-stable means of injecting flavour into a dish. We’ve toiled over our red pesto recipe, and thus proudly offer this labour of love for you to enjoy at home.
Blend a cup of roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes with two cloves of garlic and a drizzle of oil in a pestle and mortar until creamy. Add half a cup of blanched and toasted almonds (omit or swap for another nut if necessary, though this will affect the texture of your pesto), and grind further to create a coarse paste. Grate in a quarter cup of Parmigiano Reggiano (though any Italian hard cheese will work), before adding a handful of shredded basil to the mixture, and gradually incorporate the remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper, and continue to grind until thoroughly mixed. Once you have a coarse and fragrant paste, your pesto is ready to serve!