Pesto To The Rescue

by Stacey Moritz // April-May-June 2017

Now that spring has arrived, you may have found yourself in a culinary rut. The hearty soups, stews, and heavy dishes you enjoyed in winter now seem like overkill on your table. It’s time to lighten and brighten your dinner plate – but where to start?

Think pesto! Unbelievably versatile and full of flavor, pesto provides an endless array of possibilities that will dazzle your taste buds and add the perfect touch to almost any meal. While there are plenty of jarred versions on the market, it is incredibly easy to make your own pesto sauce that is full of unmatched freshness and flavor.

Traditional pestos include herbs and greens and often contain nuts and cheeses, which are delicious but can be problematic for those with nut or dairy allergies. By making your own, you can control the ingredients and customize the flavors to your family’s taste and dietary needs. Just about any herb and green can be the base of your sauce, and there are so many wonderful additions you can include to elevate it to a new pesto level. Tossing in ingredients such as the aforementioned nuts, roasted or sun dried tomatoes, and caramelized onions can turn the ordinary pesto into something unique and allow you to fold it into your mainstay dishes for a completely exceptional result.

Pesto is a wonderful topping for grilled steak, fish, and chicken. It can be stirred into mayonnaise for a full-of-flavor sandwich spread, whisked into a dressing that will turn an ordinary salad into one with a kick, or used as a topping for pizza in lieu of the traditional sauce. Toss freshly cooked pasta for a delightful cold side dish or stir into your favorite cream or tomato sauce for a lovely dinner entrée. The options for adding pesto to your mealtime fare are as endless as your imagination.

When it comes to making pesto, your food processor or blender will be your best friend. If you are making an herb- or greens-based pesto, you will need to wash and dry them very well before proceeding. Most recipes call for a good quality olive oil, a little salt, fresh garlic, and an acid to help retain color – lemon juice is extremely versatile and can be used universally in most pestos. Simply toss your herbs and/or greens in the processor and add the oils, garlic, salt, etc. until you achieve the consistency you desire. If you are using the pesto on its own as a topping or as an addition to dressings, sauces, mayonnaise, etc., use a little less oil. If you are tossing it with pasta, use a bit more. Because you are using fresh herbs and greens, pesto can darken a bit over time, so I suggest not making too large a quantity if you plan on serving it fresh.

There are many wonderful combinations that include pesto, and you can have a lot of fun creating them on your own – but if you need a little inspiration, these should help get you going.

   – Traditional basil pesto: Combine fresh basil, a pinch of salt, a clove or two of garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. You can also add pine nuts and a little Parmesan cheese if you desire.
   – Spinach and walnut pesto: Fresh baby spinach, a pinch of salt, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and a handful of walnuts. Amazing when tossed with tortellini or as a dipping sauce for crudité.
   – Your favorite baby greens like arugula, kale, or watercress … a little lemon, olive oil, and salt are all you need.
   – Roasted or sundried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper ... perfect as a sandwich spread or tossed with warm pasta.
   – Cilantro lime pesto: Combine cilantro, lime juice, garlic, a pinch of salt, and vegetable oil – delicious atop grilled chicken, spread on a quesadilla, or stirred into sour cream for a yummy dip.

As the days of spring turn to summer, you will surely find endless ways to incorporate pestos into your menus. Toss them with grilled or fresh veggies, drizzle over grilled meats, stir into rice and pasta, or sprinkle over tomatoes with fresh mozzarella or goat cheese. Whichever culinary route you choose, trust me when I say that you will never tire of having this quick and healthy goodness at your disposal.

Arugula And Lemon Pesto

   – 1 bunch of baby arugula, washed and  dried well
   – 1 garlic clove, peeled
   – Extra virgin olive oil
   – Juice of one lemon
   – Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and puree to desired consistency. Use more olive oil if tossing with pasta. Keeps refrigerated in an airtight container for about two to three days.

Stacey Moritz

Owner of The Lemon Tree Cafe, located at 113 S. White St. in Downtown Wake Forest, offering freshly prepared salads, pastas, soups, and take-away fare.