JOPLIN, Mo. —
I've praised pesto in the past, but I've discovered some new tricks. I've broadened my pesto horizons and yearn to share my newfound knowledge.
Sure, traditional pesto is amazing. Basil, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts smashed together with aged stinky cheese -- magic happens when these simple ingredients come together. I was proud of myself when I discovered I could use half broccoli puree and half pesto and no one was the wiser. Pesto is so packed with flavor that it's easy to sneak other veggies into it, but I've taken it a step further.
Pesto can be made with all kinds of green veggies. Yes, basil is standard, but you can use just about any other leafy green, or not-so-leafy green, to pack a super-food punch. Experiment. I usually use walnuts or almonds instead of pine nuts just because I never have pine nuts on hand. As it turns out, you can puree all kinds of things with garlic, olive oil and cheese and get amazing results.
Pesto anxiety hit me a few weeks ago when I saw that last summer's frozen supply was dwindling. My basil seedlings are barely out of the ground, so I decided to do some research. Lo and behold, I found that pesto has plenty of potential. It is terribly forgiving. I couldn't be more pleased.
I'm happy to use the radish, turnip and beet greens from my garden in salads or stir fries. But they can also be made into pesto for pasta, dips or pizza. No need to toss those carrot tops; puree them into pesto. Use the mint that's taking over your herb garden to make a cool, refreshing pesto dip for veggies. Broccoli, spinach and an array of leafy greens and herbs are abundant at farmers markets right now. Vitamin-packed pesto!
Basil doesn't have to steal the show with pesto. Other herbs can have a turn, too. I have oregano growing like crazy, so I lopped it off and made pesto. I threw in sage and cilantro, too. Why not? Use what you have. The pesto will forgive, and your taste buds will be pleased. The flavors will meld with the garlic and Parmesan and make something beautiful, or at least pleasantly edible.
Substitute the leafy greens of your choice in the following pesto recipes, and please let me know if you come up with something extra amazing.
1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnuts, almonds or other nuts
1 bunch parsley, coarsely chopped (stems okay)
1 bunch basil or cilantro (stems okay)
1 clove garlic or 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped green garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese or 2 tablespoons white or chickpea miso
Soak the nuts overnight in water to cover. The next morning, drain the nuts, discarding the soaking water. Place them in your food processor or blender and process into a fine paste. Add the parsley, cilantro and garlic and process until finely ground. Add the olive oil and process until incorporated, then add lemon juice and more salt, if needed (find the flavor you like). Store the pesto in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 10 days, or freeze for several months.
Carrot top pesto
1 cup lightly packed carrot leaves (stems removed)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or walnuts
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a food processor, combine the carrot leaves, oil, garlic and salt, and process until finely minced. Add the pine nuts and pulse until finely chopped. Add the Parmesan and pulse just until combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate up to two days.
Adapted from culinate.com
Collard green olive pesto
13/4 pounds collard greens
7 large green olives (21/4 ounces), pitted
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ounce finely grated Parmesan (1/2 cup)
Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut stems and center ribs from collard greens and discard. Stir collards into water in batches, then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer collards with tongs to a colander to drain, gently pressing on greens to extract excess water. If making pasta, reserve water in pot for cooking pasta. Coarsely chop collards.
Blend olives and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add collards, water, vinegar, salt, cayenne and pepper and pulse until finely chopped. With motor running, add oil in a slow stream. Turn off motor, then add cheese and pulse to combine.
Chicken and spinach soup with fresh pesto
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup carrot or diced red bell pepper
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 8 ounces), cut into quarters
1 large clove garlic, minced
5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
6 ounces baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans or great northern beans, rinsed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrot (or bell pepper) and chicken; cook, turning the chicken and stirring frequently, until the chicken begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Stir in broth and marjoram; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken pieces to a clean cutting board to cool. Add spinach and beans to the pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, Parmesan and basil in a food processor. Process until a coarse paste forms, adding a little water and scraping down the sides as necessary.
Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Stir the chicken and pesto into the pot. Season with pepper. Heat until hot. Garnish with croutons, if desired.
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