Pesto is so great, let me count the ways—it’s delicious, healthy, versatile and reason number one, my kids love it! Traditionally, basil is the defining flavor in pesto, and luckily it’s one plant I can successfully grow in my garden. Even if the leaves are marred, nobody’s going to know after I whip it into pesto! Basil can also be purchased from farmers’ markets or grocery stores.
A pesto recipe is typically made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese, but it is flexible and many of the ingredients can be substituted. I have substituted part of the basil with parsley, spinach, or other dark leafy greens. Pine nuts are expensive, so I almost always use walnuts to replace half (or all) of the pine nuts. Any nuts you have on hand will do, I’ve seen pesto made with cashews, macadamia nuts and almonds. It’s easy to make vegan pesto, just leave out the parmesan cheese, or substitute nutritional yeast. After preparing a batch of pesto, I freeze it in small zip top bags for quick easy meals in the future.
My kids, who love pasta, jump for joy when we serve it with pesto. I feel good knowing that in addition to the pasta, they are getting all the nourishing benefits of pesto as well. Pesto contains a significant amount of healthy fat from olive oil and nuts. Its leafy greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Making a habit of eating dark leafy greens helps to prevent heart disease and some types of cancer. Garlic is another powerhouse that protects against heart disease and cancer.
Pesto can be used so many ways! It can be mixed into pasta, vegetables or potatoes. It can be the base of a pizza or a spread onto a sandwich or crusty bread. It can be served warm or cold.
This version of pesto is made with a combination of basil and carrot greens. Yes, carrot greens are edible! Don’t discard them, reduce food waste and add them to soups, pesto or in place of parsley in other recipes. Carrot greens are just as nutritious as other dark leafy greens. They are low in calories and carbs and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They support the health of your bones, heart and eyes and protect against oxidation and inflammation.
Wash and measure basil and carrot greens. Blanch to preserve their bright green color. Add greens to a pot of boiling water for one minute. Then transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water. Drain well and squeeze out excess water.
Cut parmesan cheese into one inch cubes. Place into a food processor and blend until it is uniformly grated.
Place the walnuts and garlic in a food processor or blender. Process for 15 seconds.
Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper.
With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the basil mix and process until the pesto is smooth.
Add the parmesan and puree for thirty seconds, scraping down the sides of the work container if necessary.
Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer.
Blanch the herbs and greens you use after measuring to keep your pesto from turning dark.
Mix and match any combination of herbs and/or greens--use what you have on hand!
Use any nuts or seeds that you like!
Store in the fridge or freezer in a container with plastic wrap directly on top of the pesto to avoid oxidation. I use snack-sized zip top bags and fill them with 1 cup of pesto, then lay flat to freeze.
For vegan pesto, simply omit the parmesan cheese or substitute nutritional yeast.