A versatile sauce, Pesto can be used in different ways, such as a sandwich spread (Try it on ciabatta bread with sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and prosciutto, Yum!) or a dip for veggies. My favorite is to simply toss the Pesto sauce with pasta. By preparing the Pesto ahead of time, dinner is ready in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta. Shredded rotisserie chicken or cooked shrimp can also be added for more protein.
The word Pesto comes from the Italian word Pestare, which means to grind or trample on. Pesto can be made in a food processor or by hand using a mortar and pestle. Made by crushing the ingredients together, Pesto is a no-cook sauce/marinade that traditionally consist of garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and basil. I make my own variations depending on what I have on hand. You will need garlic and olive oil for sure but don’t hesitate to try walnuts or almonds in place of the pine nuts. Pecorino Romano can be substituted for Parmesan but will be slightly saltier. Parsley or mint can be substituted for the basil but I prefer a leafy green like spinach, kale or arugula, an added nutritional bonus.
Here is the recipe for my Arugula Almond Pesto. (makes 2 batches)
1/3 cup slivered almonds
3-4 garlic cloves
½ cup Olive oil, plus more for covering
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
8-10 cups Arugula leaves (removing tough stems)
*Arugula can have a slightly bitter taste and if you have picky eaters you can add some ricotta cheese tossed with the Pesto and cooked pasta or simply dolloped on top. Ricotta cheese will add a creaminess to the pasta and soften the flavor of the arugula.
I have found this method of creating Pesto to work best. Using my beloved Cuisinart food processor, I first add garlic and nuts and finely pulse, streaming in the olive oil. With a spatula, I scrape the mixture out and empty into a small mixing bowl. I then put 2 large handfuls (approximately 8-10 cups) of clean dry arugula leaves (no stems) in the food processor and chop. Once that is done, I add the chopped arugula and grated cheese to the garlic and nut mixture and combine. Makes 2 batches.
*If not using immediately cover with a thin layer of added olive oil and seal tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Refrigerated and tightly covered Pesto can last up to 2 weeks.
When adding to pasta, reserve some of the cooked pasta water and toss with Pesto sauce to coat pasta.