Here’s what we’ve learned about cooking: the food world at large does not seem to adhere to dictionary definitions, exact numbers, or strict rules. Generally, we, here at Rambling House, are fans of timelines, schedules, and lists. But there is also a large part of us that craves creativity, which is where cooking comes in. Cooking is a sensual and sensory act, which is why there should be no strict rules.
An example: the dictionary definition for pesto is: pes·to [pes-toh] noun. Italian Cookery. A sauce typically made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and grated Parmesan blended together and served hot or cold over pasta, fish, or meat.
Yet, most people we know leave out or swap at least one of those ingredients on a regular basis. For example, EatingWell’s Roasted Tomato & Almond Pesto, The Kitchn’s Spinach Pesto, or Smitten Kitchen’s Walnut Pesto: all delicious and easy to create, but lacking many of the ingredients of a defined or “correct” pesto.
We’ve got nothing against the classic pesto, don’t get us wrong. But more often than not, swapping happens. Partially for practicality, as pine nuts alone are extremely expensive and winter in New England is not exactly prime for fresh herbs. Ingredients are also subject to change due to whims of what is in season, what would go well with other foods, and, of course, what we’re most in the mood to eat. We love pesto because it’s so darn versatile. You can use it for so many things, and it is a great way to use up produce. That’s how our recipe for spinach pesto was born: in our kitchen, off the cuff, because there was a bag of spinach on its way out, lurking in the back of the refrigerator.
And we’ve had similar experiences with other pesto variations. An abundance of carrots in the fridge led way to a yummy quinoa and carrot-almond pesto dinner. A hatred of mayonnaise prompted the developing of different herb pesto recipes that go well with tuna for a quick tuna-melt. These simple blender sauces are also delicious tossed with some roasted zucchini, mushrooms, and potatoes as a quick supper. Really, the possibilities are endless.
Best part? If the pesto you make doesn’t include cheese, you can freeze it, making use of herbs and veggies when they’re in season (aka fresher and cheaper). Just pour the pesto into an ice cube tray, and you’ve got just the right amount of pesto on hand at any time! (Note: Some people freeze pesto with cheese so, by all means, give it a shot. We just prefer to freeze it without, and stir the freshly-grated cheese into the final dish instead.)
Our basic rule of thumb is as follows:
Pesto = Olive oil + veggie/herb + garlic +seasoning to taste
It really is just that easy. Sometimes you end up with weird combos (for example, an unappetizing and bizarrely-colored Carrot Avocado Pesto), but more often than not, the results have been quick, easy, and delicious.
Here are some of the combinations we’ve come up with. Be bold in your flavor combinations, and have fun!
Plenty of Pesto
Unless otherwise noted, all you do is prep your ingredients, throw them in a blender, and spin til smooth. Add more or less olive oil depending on how thick you want your pesto. These recipes all yield a little less than one cup of pesto.
TIP: If you aren’t down with the pungent flavor of raw garlic, try this blanching technique and use those cloves. Blanching will mellow their flavor.
TIP: The nuts break down better and lend more flavor to the pesto if you slightly toast them and then allow them to cool before adding them to the blender. Be careful, though, burned almonds are no fun!
Spinach Avocado Pesto
1/2 Avocado + 3 ounces Basil or Spinach + 1 peeled clove Garlic + 3 tablespoon Pecorino Romano + pinch of salt
Zesty Basil & Cilantro Pesto
1/2 cup fresh Basil + 1/2 cup fresh Cilantro + 1 small lime’s worth Lime Zest & Juice + 2 tablespoons almonds+ 4 tablespoons Olive Oil + pinch of salt
Peas & Cheese Pesto
1/2 cup cooked and cooled Peas + 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan + 1 small clove Garlic + 1 tablespoon Walnuts + 2 tablespoon Olive Oil +pinch of salt
Tomato Almond Pesto
1 cup grape tomatoes + 1/4 cup Almonds + 1 clove Garlic + 1 tablespoons grated Parmesan + 2 tablespoons Olive Oil + 1 teaspoon Red Wine Vinegar