Northern Italy is one of the most stunning places in the world and it’s also a place where some of our favorite foods have originated. Genoa is a small city in Northern Italy where a tasty sauce called pesto was born. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in a quaint city called Parma, which is a culinary delight and not far from Genoa. One thing I learned from my time there is that food is a beautiful part of Italian life, where cooking and eating are valued, done slowly and enjoyed with family. I think we have a lot to learn about life from this way of cooking, eating and living. We love bringing pieces of the Italian way of life into our home!
Pesto: A Versatile Superfood
One way we have done that is to add pesto into our regular rotation of foods. We mix it up a little and have experimented with different flavors to bring our health goals and love of food together. Read on to learn some of our favorite combinations and ways to have pesto meet any of your dietary needs and culinary desires!
Traditional pestos are made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and parmesan. You can easily make this traditional pesto vegan by skipping the parmesan and add a few extra pine nuts or walnuts instead.
However the possibilities are endless! You don’t need to stop at just having basil pesto, although we definitely keep that on rotation in our home as well. Here you will find a specific recipe for a plant based, vegan and gluten free pesto. I also will give you several ideas on how to make a cheap, easy, healthy superfood pesto, getting some of your ingredients straight from your garden! These pestos are packed with nutrients and can be used in a variety of ways, from pasta sauces to sandwiches sauces and more!
Options for Greens from the Garden (or Store)
Basil is an excellent and traditional flavor for pestos. It goes especially well on pasta but truly it’s a great summer flavor and is a perfect straight from the garden herb.
Our Swiss chard plants have done really well in our garden. Of course you can cook these up like your normal greens but why not mix it up by turning it into a versatile pesto sauce? This is a perfect way to mix up your use or use some extra veggies that need to be used soon.
Did you know that you can re-grow carrot tops? Simply place the carrots tops in a dish with some water, changing the water regularly. When they start to sprout, place them in soil. They will not re-grow carrots this way but you will end up with some nutrient packed carrot greens on repeat and they are an excellent option to use in pesto!
We’ve always had luck growing peppers. I’m thinking maybe because we’ve lived in warm climates and they’ve done well here or perhaps it’s just a hearty plant! Pick a pepper and add it to your pesto for that extra spicy kick you love in your dishes. Or for extra spice, skip the greens and lemon and make your own version of a hot sauce pesto.
Some other greens you could consider would be other herbs like cilantro and dill or other vegetables such as broccoli or beet greens (the top of beets).
Pick Your Nut
Nuts are packed with protein, healthy fats, vitamins and are overall wonderful for your health in moderation. Some nuts are healthier, cheaper or more available so that may help you choose which nut you would like to use. For example, pine nuts are very expensive so you may choose to add a smaller amount of pine nuts or all walnuts instead if you’re trying to stick to a budget. Additionally, food allergies or sensitivities may dictate your choice. You can experiment with any nuts or seeds you like in these pestos, knowing that some may require some additional adjustment of other ingredients. We most often use walnuts as they are a great option!
Oil and Salt
If you are maintaining a whole foods plant based diet or are choosing to limit salt and oil for any reason, you can also experiment with using no or low oil and salt. Most people will find the flavor to be better with oil and salt but you can easily reduce the amount to your taste.
Citrus fruits also have a lot of health benefits. Packed with vitamin C and a fruit I always think of as an excellent body cleanser too, we love adding lots of citrus into our foods. Typically, we use lemon in our pesto recipes. You also could easily add lime. For example, lime and cilantro pesto is a delicious combo! Lime or orange with peppers are also a great combination. If you experiment with orange or lime, let me know!
How To Make Pesto
The basic recipe to experiment with is pick a green, add some citrus juice, oil and salt. Experiment with amounts to achieve desired texture and taste. I prefer more creamy for pasta sauce and more course for a sandwich spread. Add the ingredients to a food processor and pulse it until it’s finely chopped. approximately 10-12 times and then on high for about 10 seconds for the desired consistency.
- 4 to 6 Swiss chard leaves (stalks optional)
- 8 to 10 greens from mature carrot tops
- 1 large garlic clove
- 1 oz extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 lemon juiced
- 1/4 c walnuts
1. Gather ingredients and cut into approximately 1-2 inch pieces.
2. Place all ingredients in a food processor.
3. Pulse 10-12 times until finely chopped and ingredients are mixed inside the food processor. Turn on high for 10-12 seconds or until desired consistency is acheived.
How to Store
We use Mason jars with lids to keep these in the fridge for a few days to a week at a time. I also believe you could freeze these pestos which would make it an excellent way to use up veggies from your garden and store them for later.
I would LOVE to hear what combinations you explore and what are your favorites. Share this with a friend now and come back later to tell me your favorite combo!