Garlic, pine nut, Parmesan, olive oil, basil — the makings of a classic pesto

Emma Christensen Tribune Media Services Published September 6, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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Tribune Media Services

With Classic Pesto, the bottom line is that green plus nuts plus cheese plus olive oil equals awesome sauce.

It’s always tempting to eat pesto by the spoonful. It’s so very fresh and so very green. And those flavors — basil, pine nut, Parmesan, garlic and olive oil — just play so very nicely together.

Spread it on sandwiches, toss it with pasta or, yes, treat yourself a single happy spoonful, but definitely absolutely positively make pesto any chance you get.

Beside how heavenly it tastes, the other thing I love about pesto is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Traditional Italian pesto is, of course, made strictly with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic and really good olive oil. It’s a classic sauce, no contest.

But you can switch out the basil for another handy herb or leafy green, replace the (crazy expensive, if delicious) pine nuts with a different favorite nut, or swap the Parm for Pecorino or Asiago.

Use more or less of anything to suit your tastes. Heck, you can even make a lower-fat pesto by replacing some of the olive oil with ricotta cheese!

Bottom line: Green plus nuts plus cheese plus olive oil equals awesome sauce, literally.

Whiz it up in a blender, and you can’t go wrong.

Classic Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients:

5-6 ounces (2 healthy bunches or about 6 cups gently packed) basil leaves, or any other green

1/2 cup pine nuts, or any other nut

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, or any other hard cheese

1-2 garlic cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4-1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Combine half of the basil with the nuts, cheese, garlic and salt in a blender or food processor. Blend continuously until the ingredients are finely chopped.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the rest of the basil. Blend until a uniform paste has formed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

With the blender running, stream in the olive oil. Less olive oil will make a paste good for spreading on sandwiches and pizzas; more will make a sauce better for pastas and stirring into soup.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue blending as needed until the olive oil is emulsified into the basil and the pesto looks uniform.

Taste the pesto and add more salt, garlic, nuts or cheese as needed to taste.

Note: Pesto will darken and brown very quickly, but it will still be tasty and fresh for several days. For best appearance, use it right away. If storing, keep it in the smallest container possible and thoroughly press the pesto to eliminate air pockets. Pour a little olive oil over the surface, cover, and refrigerate for up to a week. Pesto can also be frozen for several months.

Emma Christensen is a writer for TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit comments or questions to kitchn@apartmenttherapy.com.

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