Pesto is one of those quintessential summer foods.

Its featured ingredient, basil, is in full bloom this time of year, and the no-cook nature of the dish is a great option for hot summer nights. Traditional basil pesto is unanimously loved in my house; even my carb-avoidant husband will relax his strictures to delve into a tempting plate of fettuccine pesto.

The word “pesto” comes from the Italian word “pestare,” which means to crush or pound. It is traditionally made by hand in a mortar and pestle (note the same root word). I use a food processor, but I certainly applaud anyone who wants to try the authentic method.

I’m a fan of riffing on the traditional, and if the innovation yields a health, flavor or textural benefit, all the better. Last year, I played with avocados in the pesto, and it worked well.

The recipe below differs from the original version with the addition of cooked green peas. This reduces the amount of oil and cheese used in the dish so it cuts the fat, and brings a creamier texture to the sauce. The basil and garlic flavor is a bit more subtle, but there is still plenty going on here.

This makes enough for a pound of fresh pasta with some leftover. The good news: Pesto freezes beautifully, and there are countless uses for it aside from a pasta topping. Consider these options:

Ditch the butter and offer pesto as an accompaniment to fresh bread.

Make “Caprese Towers.” Layer a sliced tomato, a schmear of pesto, a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese, and continue for two more layers. If they topple, fear not, they are still delicious. And if you really want them to stack, you can secure them with a toothpick.

Make pesto salad dressing; use one part pesto, one part olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Mix pesto into tuna or chicken salad.

Use it to top pizza in lieu of marinara sauce.

Substitute it for mayo or mustard on a sandwich.

Serve it as a condiment with a cheese plate.

Drizzle it over grilled fish or veggies.

Make the quickest appetizer ever: Place a block of cream cheese on a plate, cover it with pesto and serve with crostini or crackers. 

P-P-Pesto Pasta (Pea Pistachio Pesto)

3 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed

4 cloves garlic

1 cup green peas, cooked, with ¼ cup cooking liquid

½ cup olive oil

½ cup Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons shelled, roasted, salted pistachios

Sprinkle of red pepper flakes

Salt to taste

1 pound fresh pasta

Place all ingredients except for the pasta in a food processor, and puree until smooth.

Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Before draining, reserve ¼ cup cooking water.

Drain the pasta well, pour it into a bowl, and add ¾ cup of the pesto to the pasta. Add the pasta water, a little at a time, to help loosen the sauce and spread it over the pasta. Serve immediately.


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