Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to Make Homemade Pesto All Year Long

If you've read other posts on making fresh pesto, you'll know that most focus on making large batches while basil is in season (spring/summer) and freezing it in ice cubes to use during the long winter months. That's dandy and all if you're drowning in basil leaves from your homegrown plants, but some of us 1) don't have the right natural light to grow them and 2) aren't overachieving Type As. So if you don't have a freezer full of pesto cubes, don't feel deprived. 

What many people might not realize is that pesto is already chock full of other flavorful ingredients (nuts, cheese, oil, garlic, lemon) so you can easily swap out the basil for other seasonal greens and it will taste equally good! I didn't make pesto for the longest time because I thought I had to have a food processor (I've never owned one) and pine nuts are expensive.

Then I found out I could swap in other nuts and use a blender. I've been making a small batch almost weekly since then, usually for a quick pasta dish, but pesto is also amazing spread on sandwiches, meats or veggies. It works great as great dip, but my spicy roasted red pepper dip beats it by a long shot. All in all, pesto is pretty darn versatile, thus perfect for whipping up a fast weeknight meal.

I've been using whatever's on hand at home, so for awhile I was making green kale, garlic and walnut pesto. I generally have organic kale in my fridge for green protein smoothies or soups. It's so good for you! Eventually, I ran out of walnuts, so this week I switched to red kale, garlic, almonds and threw in some roasted red peppers. This version is definitely my favorite so far! 

The other cool thing about pesto (if you're making it for a pasta dish) is you can cut down the amount of olive oil a smidgen (the pesto will be much thicker) and when you combine it with the pasta, thin it with a bit of starchy pasta water to create a sauce. 

Kale, Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper & Almond Pesto
A healthy, flavorful pesto you can make all year long using organic kale, garlic and whatever nuts you have on hand (I used raw almonds in this recipe). Jazz it up by adding jarred roasted red pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, then adjust the cheese and olive oil to your liking. But don't forget the fresh lemon juice. It's essential! 
Adapted from OneHungryMama's Kale & Walnut Pesto
Yield: 6-8 ounces (about enough to cover 1/2 a lb of pasta)

4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
6-8 raw almonds
1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese (or an Italian blend)
2-3 tablespoons of roasted red peppers (I use jarred)
1/4 bunch of organic kale, thick stems removed
Fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 a lemon)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Sea Salt, to taste (I recommend Pink HimalayanCeltic or Utah sourced salt)
Cracked Black Pepper, to taste
1/4+ cup of extra virgin olive oil (adjust amount depending on how thick you want the pesto)
--I recommend this brand since it passed the EVOO Test--

Recommended Equipment
blender or immersion blender 
silicone spatula

Smash and peel the garlic and remove the thick stems from the kale. Put all ingredients except the olive oil into the blender and pulse a few times. Take the lid off and push the kale down, if necessary. Once the mixture's started to reduce and mix, pour in the olive oil and blend 30 seconds to a minute, or until everything is combined. The mixture should be smooth, with flecks of herbs. Use immediately or if refrigerating for later, cover with a thin layer of olive oil.

Notes & Tips

  • This recipe is just a starting point. Adjust the seasonings/ingredients however you like. If you want a stronger lemon flavor, add more. If you're not that into garlic, reduce the amount. If you love cheese, add more parmesan. Add more olive oil to make it extra creamy (most of the restaurant and store-made versions do). 
  • If the pesto is too thick for your liking, add more olive oil and/or lemon juice. If it's too thin, add more greens. 
  • Experiment with variations. Add more roasted red peppers and only a bit of leafy greens for a roasted red pepper pesto. If you like spicy sauces or dips, add a few roasted jalapeno or poblano peppers. Use whatever nuts, greens, cheeses or herbs you have on hand
  • As I mentioned before, if you made a big batch or have leftovers, you can freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray, pop the cubes into a freezer bag and pull out a few at a time for a recipe.

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  1. That's a great suggestion about subbing out greens when basil isn't fresh. Kale sounds awesome as pesto.

    I have the same problem in Chicago that growing large quantities of fresh basil just isn't going to happen year round.

    1. I'm not sure what vitamins/benefits basil has, but kale's sure good for you, so I feel great about slathering this pesto all over my food (even with all the olive oil).

      Most people in the midwest and northern regions of the U.S. can't grow basil in the wintertime (unless they do it inside), and it can be expensive to buy a large bundle in the off season. Organic Kale (or other greens) are half the price and super healthy, so they make a great alternative. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Tony. :)


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