Stock up on Pesto

Having a well stocked pantry is one of the the most important factors in making your cooking experience fun, flavorful and rewarding. I have a number of key items that I consider my ‘go-to’ for putting together a quick meal that tastes as if it took hours to prepare. Pesto is definitely in that category.

One of the pleasures of summer is the array of wonderful basils, cilantro and other herbs that I like to use to make pesto. Of course I love it when it’s freshly made but it freezes very well too. At the end of summer, before the threat of frost, I harvest all the basil and turn it into pesto and oils to carry me through the winter months. Having a pasta dish tossed with the fresh summer flavor of basil on a cold winter night makes everything seem brighter.

I prefer a blend of herbs when making basil pesto. I use mostly basil  but I add some parsley and mint for an added nuance of flavor. Basil oxidizes easily and the parsley and mint help keep a brighter green color.

For a lower fat version, reduce the amount of olive oil. I use lemon juice and/or vegetable stock reduction to replace some of the oil. After it is in a paste consistency, then I add enough oil to get the texture I want and bring the flavors together.

For a vegan version of pesto, replace the cheese with sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. I usually sprout the seeds first by soaking them in water for a few hours. This makes them even more nutritious.

There are a number of ‘garden harvest’ classes coming up this summer that will include making different types of pesto – sundried tomato; roasted pepper; cilantro; arugula or others. I will be posting some of the recipes on Gourmet Retreats with the newsletter.