Any herb may be substituted for basil and even kale and spinach have been known to turn up in a pesto. Be creative and use your pesto with more than pasta. Making pesto with different herbs uses the typical basil recipe but sometimes with a few changes for the nuts or cheese or change things up your own way. Here are some other herbs to use in pesto and ideas on how to use them.
Basic Fresh Herb Pesto
Prep and Cook time: 20 min Yield: about 1 C
2 C fresh basil leaves or any other herb or combo of herbs, packed (can sub half the herb leaves with baby spinach)
1/2 C freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (about ¼ C)
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/3 c pine nuts (can sub other chopped nuts or leave out)
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 tsp)
1/4 tsp salt and pepper
Place the basil leaves and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times. Add the garlic and cheese and pulse several more times. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a small steady stream. Adding the olive oil slowly while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Stir in salt and black pepper. Store in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Put a thin layer of oil on the top to keep it from turning brown.
Use the directions for Basic Herb Pesto to make this spicy version.
2 C packed cilantro, including stems
1/2 C blanched almonds
1/4 C chopped red onion
1/2 tsp chopped and seeded serrano chile; add more serrano chilies if you like things hot. A full teaspoon will give you a nice, warm pesto.
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 C olive oil
Toast the almonds: Heat a small skillet on high heat. When the pan is hot, add the blanched almonds in a single layer. Stir with a wooden spoon. When the almonds are fragrant and start to brown, remove them from the pan.
Here are a few other suggestions. Use the Basic Herb Pesto recipe and directions making the substitutions as indicated.
Kale-walnut pesto with spaghetti squash
Bake the squash, scrape the inside to form “noodles”. Add kale pesto to squash “noodles”
and top with cherry tomatoes. Heat and eat.
Oregano-pistachio pesto, also add 2 Tbsp lemon juice
Serve on grilled or steamed fish
Lemon basil pesto
Brush on chicken and grill
Mint pesto – no nuts or cheese
Add to ground lamb before forming into patties
Instead of garlic bread, spread pesto onto crusty bread and toast
Stir pesto into bread dough for wonderfully fragrant dinner rolls or breads
Stir pesto into quick breads and biscuits
Spread on a Sandwich or Flatbread
Mix pesto with mayonnaise and use on a sandwich
Mix into Salad Dressing
Toss (or Top) Veggies
We have an abundance of cilantro this year. We have harvested and dried what we hope will be all that we need for this year and are leaving the plants to flower and go to seed. We will harvest the seeds when they are ready, which is when about half the seeds have turned from greenish to grayish-tan. These will go in a paper bag to finish drying. Later we will use them as coriander for culinary purposes or as seed for next year’s planting. We chose to harvest some of this cilantro abundance for ourselves and preserve for winter time goodness. Although we did not make a “true” pesto because we left out some of the ingredients, we used the same directions.
- Sort and trim the cilantro – stems are ok we just didn’t want large ones
- Rinse the cilantro and dry in a salad spinner
- Fill the food processor bowl to the top and chop
- Add olive oil – enough to get the herb mixture to stick together in a mound, hold together
- Stop occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl
- Place in ice cube trays to freeze
We have an easy to use cilantro paste/sauce similar to pesto ready for those Mexican dishes that require a little spiciness. For those who would like to make true pesto, we offer the following recipe and ideas.
Pesto and the basic herb paste discussed above, freezes well. You can easily freeze it in ice cube trays, and then store frozen pesto cubes in the freezer for up to 6 months. Pesto may also be frozen in small glass jars or plastic containers for up to 9-12 months. One friend of ours does this every year, mixing herbs to her liking and creating a basic herbal paste, which she freezes in jars and uses all winter. She simply pulls a small jar out, places it in the fridge to defrost, and then scoops out with a spoon however much she wants for her morning scrambled eggs and in soups and stews throughout the winter and spring.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation makes this statement concerning the canning of pesto:
"Pesto is an uncooked seasoning mixture of herbs, usually including fresh basil, and some oil. It may be frozen for long term storage; there are no home canning recommendations."
So get some pesto going with whatever herb you have on hand including the classic basil to enjoy now and preserve some for those rainy winter days we know will come.