The Everyday Chef: How to Make Pesto from Any Green
Alex Caspero, MA, RD, CLT
Everyday Chef, Fruits & Veggies—More Matters
You don’t need expensive pine nuts or even basil to make this favorite green sauce. Experimenting with various greens, nuts, and cheeses is a great way to get a whole lot more pesto into your life. When you think about pesto as a loose formula rather than a strict recipe, you’ll realize that anything works—here’s how to make pesto out of almost anything. Watch My Facebook Live Video
Step 1. Choose a Green
Almost any herb or leafy green will work, though some might need advanced preparation before being used. Swap in tender herbs and greens like parsley, cilantro, arugula, spinach, chives and mint the same way you’d use basil.
For tougher greens, like kale, mustard greens or collards, blanch or steam them first to soften, then drain and add to the food processor. Or, instead of steaming, trying grilling or roasting the vegetables first before adding them in. This step adds more a complex, caramelized flavor, which pairs especially well with grilled meats.
Consider ‘root to frond’ when making your pesto. March is National Nutrition Month® and this month’s theme is ‘go further with food.’ So, consider greens that you typically throw out for your pesto like carrot greens, fennel fronds and beet greens.
Green Ideas: cilantro, arugula, broccoli, kale, collards, beet greens, watercress, spinach, parsley, chives, chervil, mint, broccoli rabe, scallions
Step 2. Pick a Nut
Since pine nuts tend to be outrageously expensive, try a more common nut in your favorite pesto recipe. While nuts are the preferred ingredient, you can also swap in creamy avocado instead, or in addition to.
For added flavor, toast the nuts first in a dry skillet or the oven, then add along with your green of choice.
Nutty choices: walnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), pecans, sunflower seeds, pistachios, sesame seeds, almonds, brazil nuts
Step 3: Cheese, Please
Any hard, salty cheese will work in place of Parmesan. Or, forgo the cheese completely in favor of nutritional yeast, a fortified yeast that tastes like Parmesan cheese but is completely dairy-free. You’ll find nutritional yeast, or “nooch,” in the bulk section or health food section of grocery stores. If you prefer to skip the cheese and nooch, just increase the amount of nuts and seeds to make up for the flavor.
Cheesy picks: aged manchego, aged gouda, nutritional yeast, aged cheddar, pecorino romano, grana padano, aged asiago
Step 4: Customize
Now that you’ve got your base ingredients, it’s time to start blending! Place nuts, greens and cheese (if using) in the base of a food processor. Blend until greens are very finely chopped, nuts are crumbled and cheese is mixed in. With the blade running, add in a little olive oil (or canola, other nut oil) until desired consistency is reached.
Experiment with different seasonings and add-ins: garlic cloves, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar and salt/pepper
Step 5: Eat!
Thankfully, pesto tastes great on just about anything. Enjoy your pesto creation on pasta, pizza, cooked potatoes, grilled vegetables and meats, in salad dressing, folded into scrambled eggs, or smeared on a sandwich.
Photo Credit: Alex Caspero