Friday, July 18, 2014

It’s a Pesto Party!
What’s cooking? 4 pestos and 10 ways to use them

I always find it a bit painful to watch the vendors at the farmers’ market tear the perfect, feathery green tops from the bunches of carrots and toss them into a heap. I assume they’ll be composting that heap, but it seems like a waste nevertheless. So I did a bit of investigating, and found that a great way to use those carrot tops is in a pesto.

Strictly speaking, pesto refers to a paste made with olive oil, garlic, grated hard cheese, pine nuts, and basil. According to Wikipedia, the ancient Romans made it with a variety of herbs; the Ligurians around Genoa adapted it with basil, and the French in Provence developed it into pistou, which uses no cheese and adds parsley. A recipe for pesto first appeared in an Italian cookbook dated 1863, but the dish didn’t really become popular in the U.S. until at least the 1980s. And no wonder – before the Age of Cuisinart, you had to pound away on those ingredients with your mortar and pestle. The Kitchen Goddess  may be a purist, but she does very little with a mortar and pestle.

These days, with food processors being ubiquitous, cooks make pesto with almost anything. I’ve made delicious pestos with bases of arugula, green peas and mint, and sun-dried tomatoes, in addition to basil. In my research, I uncovered pesto recipes using sage or beets or spinach (so now I have three more to try). Make up your own with your favorite green plant puréed with a couple of cloves of garlic, a handful of pine nuts, lots of good quality olive oil, and some finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Tweak it with a bit of lemon or lime or OJ or citrus zest, and tell me about it. I’ll do a follow-up post in the fall featuring any I hear about.

I should add that pesto keeps really well – at least a couple of weeks in the fridge, and a year in the freezer.

In the meantime, the Kitchen Goddess looked around the farmers’ market and found lots of ingredients for pesto, and whipped up four delicious ones for you. And so you don’t have to wonder what to do with all that pesto you’re about to make...

Beyond Pasta: 10 Ways to Use Pesto

We all know that pesto is great on pasta. Add a little of the pasta water to thin out the pesto (you may also want to add a bit of cream), and garnish with a sprinkling of extra cheese or parsley. Mmmm... What else?

1. Use pesto as a crudité dip – the cilantro pesto goes especially well with cucumber rounds and endive leaves. I frequently use basil pesto or arugula pesto to dip a variety of raw veggies (blanched asparagus, raw carrots, radishes, celery, snow peas, jicama, broccoli, bell peppers).

2. Drizzle pesto over roasted vegetables. The roasted carrots above were wonderful with the carrot-top pesto, or you can try the Kitchen Goddess’s recipe for Grilled Cauliflower with Pesto and Cheese Sauce (click here for recipe). I feel weak just remembering this dish.

3. Thin pesto with some olive oil and use it as a salad dressing. Or don’t thin it and try it on this Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto (click here for recipe). It doesn’t have to be arugula pesto.

4. As an hors d’oeuvre, serve crostini or crackers spread with fresh ricotta cheese or goat cheese, and topped with a dollop of pesto. This photo features Spring Pea and Mint Pesto (click here for recipe), but any pesto will do.

5. Use pesto instead of tomato sauce to make your own favorite pizza.

6. Spread pesto on your favorite crusty sandwich bread for a great new BLT, or even a Chicken-LT.

7.  Brighten up breakfast with a dollop of zingy parsley pesto over polenta topped with a soft-boiled egg.

8. Try cilantro pesto or parsley pesto on broiled fish or scallops. Divine.

9. For another easy hors d’oeuvre idea, garnish quartered hard-boiled eggs with one of these pestos – pretty and tasty.

10. Think French and stir a spoonful of pesto – just like pistou but with cheese – into a steaming bowl of vegetable soup.

So now that you know what to do with it, here are four variations on classic pesto.

L to R: Basil-Parsley-Pistachio Pesto, Carrot-Top Pesto, Cilantro Pesto, Parsley Pesto.

Basil-Parsley-Pistachio Pesto

Adapted from Julia della Croce at

This is a pretty pesto, with multicolor shades of green from the pistachios and the parsley. The nuts add a bit of crunch to the texture as well as a meatiness to the taste, which is surprisingly mild (in a good way). If you want a stronger flavor, increase the garlic.

Makes about 1½ cups.

½ cup pistachios, shelled, peeled*, unsalted
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 cup basil leaves, packed
½ cup parsley leaves, packed
1 large clove garlic
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup good quality olive oil
¼ cup finely grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
freshly ground pepper

*[Kitchen Goddess note: If you cannot get pistachios that are shelled and have the membranes removed, buy the shelled nuts, remove the kernels from the shells, then blanch them in a small saucepan of boiling water for 1 minute. Shock them in cold water for a couple of minutes, then drain the nuts on paper towels, and the membranes will peel off easily.]

Toast the pistachios and the almonds. [See note about toasting nuts at the end of this post.] Pulse the toasted nuts in the bowl of a food processor until coarsely ground.

Add the basil, parsley, garlic, and salt to the nuts, and pulse until the mixture is grainy. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Stop the motor and add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and about 8 good grinds of black pepper. Pulse until well combined. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Chill until a half hour before serving.

Carrot-Top Pesto

Adapted from Diane Morgan in Roots, via

This pesto is amazing on top of roasted carrots, but good in many other uses. The carrot greens have a mellow taste, so the flavor of the cheese comes through stronger than with some other pestos.

Makes 1½ cups.

6 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cups packed carrot top leaves, large stems discarded
2 large cloves garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup good quality olive oil
¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Start by toasting the pine nuts. [See note about toasting nuts at the end of this post.]

Combine the toasted nuts with the carrot tops, the garlic, and the salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until grainy. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and pulse until combined.

Cilantro Pesto

With the little bit of heat from the jalapeño, this cilantro pesto has a nice bite to it and, because it isn’t heavy, works really well over white fish or shrimp.

Makes 1½ cups.

¼ cup pine nuts
2 cups cilantro, thickest stems removed
2 cloves garlic
6 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1 tablespoon jalapeño, seeds removed
¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
¾ teaspoon salt
6-8 good grinds of pepper

Toast the pine nuts. [See note about toasting nuts at the end of this post.] Combine the cilantro, toasted pine nuts, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until grainy. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream. Add the jalapeño and Parmigiano-Reggiano and pulse until combined. Add the lime juice and salt/pepper and pulse just until combined. Chill until a half hour before serving.

Parsley Pesto

Adapted from Bon Appétit, June 2013

Italian parsley is available year-round, so this is a pesto you can make any time. Bright taste with a mildly nutty finish. Excellent tossed with broiled shrimp over pasta.

Makes 2 cups.

¼ cup unsalted, slivered almonds
¼ cup pine nuts
4 cups (packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup chopped fresh chives
1 large garlic clove, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup finely grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper

Toast the almonds and the pine nuts. [See note about toasting nuts at the end of this post.] In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the nuts until evenly ground. Add the parsley, chives, and garlic, and salt, and pulse to a grainy texture. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and pulse until combined. Add the lemon juice and about 8 good grinds of black pepper, and pulse just until combined. Chill until a half hour before serving.

A Kitchen Goddess Note on Toasting Nuts:

There are several ways to toast nuts, but the Kitchen Goddess prefers either the stovetop method or the oven method. (You can also toast nuts in a toaster oven or a microwave. Neither is any easier than the methods below.) The oven method is better if you need the burner or have already heated the oven; stovetop is preferable for speed and easier monitoring. ANY METHOD NEEDS MONITORING, as nuts can go from golden brown to burnt in the blink of an eye. (Once, after burning three batches in a row – hard to imagine, eh? – I had to raid my neighbor’s pantry for more nuts.)

Stovetop: Put the nuts in a large enough skillet to hold them in a single layer and cook them over medium heat, stirring every 20-30 seconds, until the nuts begin to brown, after which you’ll need to stir them almost constantly until they achieve a golden brown. The whole process will take about 5 minutes. Once you take them off the fire, continue stirring for another minute or remove them to a bowl/plate, as they will continue to absorb heat from the pan.

Oven: Put the nuts in a large enough pan to hold them in a single layer. Roast them at 375º in the upper third of the oven. After about 4 minutes, shake the pan every 2 minutes to get the color even. The whole process will take about 10 minutes.


  1. Oh, how I love this blog! So much info and all of these fantastic pictures to further entice one to
    try all of these pestos and serving suggestions....who would have ever thought of using the green carrot tops... W O W.
    Eileen in Atlanta

    1. I always love hearing from you, Eileen! And yeah, those carrot tops make a tasty pesto. Have fun with pesto this week, and let me know if you come up with a new way to serve it.

  2. Lee -- What a wonderful post -- even more wonderful than the many other wonderful posts. I'm going to have to make my way to the Greenmarket or Chelsea Market for herbs and stuff.

    1. Excellent, Dorie -- Let me know if you find something fun!

  3. You have done it, yet again; another perfect dinner party! This time, cilantro pesto with pasta and scallops! Yum, thanks Aunt Lee!
    - k.