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Mild Basil Pesto

April 12, 2012

Who doesn’t like pesto?

Even picky eaters – “what’s that green stuff?” people – love it. My basil-hating brother would eat his own arm if it was slathered in the stuff.

It’s perfect on pizza or pasta; it’s dreamy drizzled over fresh tomatoes, served with fish or chicken or in a sandwich. It’s ridunkulously easy to make – you just pile a bunch of things into the blender without, in my case, bothering to measure. It lasts in the fridge long enough to be a pleasant surprise that night you’re too tired to make dinner.

So what problem could I possible have with pesto?

My problem is that I always end up tasting it in my mouth all day, all night, and into the next morning. I love the taste, but not the (liiiiiiiinnnnnnngering) aftertaste, of raw garlic. Pesto can be like your favorite party guest who’s had a bit too much to drink. He’s loud, raunchy, and doesn’t know when to go home.

Fortunately, pesto doesn’t always overstay his welcome. He makes good company even when mild mannered and courteous.

Yup, pesto can go garlic-free. What he loses in (stinky) spunk, he makes up for in subtle perfection. The garlic is, I think, totally unnecessary, but if you can’t go without it (or you have some miraculous garlic-neutralizing toothpaste that you’re about to tell me about), you can use one clove instead of the usual three.

Pesto, as I’ve mentioned, is a chameleon. Like the best of guests, he fits just where you want him, into even the most difficult of any dinner crowds. The classic basil + garlic + pine nuts + Parmesan + olive oil equation is just a template. We’ve done pistachio pesto here before (to great success). The pine nuts can be substituted with walnuts or even cashews; you could go without basil and make pesto with arugula, parsley or a mixture. Parmesan can be substituted for another sharp, dry cheese; and the possible additions (lemon juice? chili flakes? anchovy paste?) mean you have no excuse but to start inviting pesto over more often.


So, to be honest, I just eyeball it when making pesto. I throw a ton of basil into the blender and taste as add the other ingredients. I’ll try to be as close as possible with these measurements, but remember to taste as you go. Makes enough to coat at the very least 2 lbs (2 pkgs/8-10 servings) of pasta or lots of sandwiches.

3 cups fresh basil leaves (a whole big bunch)

1/2 cup pine nuts

2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (the real thing makes all the difference)

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)

 In the bowl of a food processor or blender, place the basil leaves and half the olive oil; blend. Add the pine nuts and cheese and blend to combine, adding more oil as necessary to taste and to desired consistency. (It should be pretty oil-heavy.)

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