Friday, June 18, 2010

Recipe Fridays: Vegetable-based pestos

I have actually never been a big fan of pesto sauce, except in limited doses.  I just find it to be...too much.  Too oily, too salty, too flavorful.  As a result, I like it when it's dabbed next to a tomato salad, but not when it's slathered on pasta.  Well, Mark Bittman of the NYTimes has found a solution for that, like he has for so many things: Vegetable-based pesto sauces!  By starting from a base of green vegetables, the pesto gets a lighter taste and texture, and has a rich, creamy vehicle to deliver the spices and oil that make up the entirety of traditional pesto sauces.  Moreover, it means a much healthier sauce, with veggies built in (equals kid-friendly).

Bittman's original recipe was for asparagus pesto, made as follows:
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
1 clove garlic, or more to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil, or more as desired
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
You boil the asparagus just a couple minutes until tender (first break off woody ends), then blend in the food processor with remaining ingredients, saving some of the oil and possibly some asparagus cooking water for the end in case the sauce needs more moisture.  Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper last so you can adjust as needed.

Once you figure out the basic formula--green vegetables, nuts, garlic, oil, seasoning--you can endlessly adapt it.  I made Bittman's asparagus pesto with basil and chives blended in, skipped the Parmesan cheese, and subbed walnuts for pine nuts.  What's amazing about these pestos is the texture: instead of oily and grainy like so many pestos, they're light, creamy, and fluffy.

So far, my favorite variation is one made with broccoli stems (never know what to do with those buggers, eh?) and served over a mixture of farfalle and roasted broccoli and carrots.  I boiled the broccoli stems left over from the broccoli florets (I usually throw these out! Never again), then blended with a half bunch of basil, olive oil, garlic, walnuts, red pepper flakes, a splash of white wine vinegar, and salt and pepper.  The result was so delicious I could have eaten it alone.  But, when you're at that point, it's usually as good idea to add a little more salt to the mix, since it will be spread out over pasta.  This is a wonderful idea for summer pastas that can be eaten lukewarm on the porch.  Let me know if you come up with any other combinations!


  1. I've also made a pesto-like sauce out of mostly cilantro, using ginger and garlic and spices and cutting out the nuts entirely for a lighter texture (I got the idea from a Moroccan sauce called chermoula, which is often used on fish but also goes great on pasta!); the cilantro is a great, refreshing summer taste. There's a recipe on my blog, or you could just Google "chermoula" for other ways to make it.

  2. Yummmmm. Here's the recipe anny refers to. It looks a little complicated, but I bet you could just use the idea, replacing the green herb in pesto with a cilantro/parsley mix, and adjust the other seasonings to taste.


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