RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Thankfully, we're about at the end of the winter herb drought. Before too long, kitchen gardeners and farmer's market patrons will be able to enjoy fresh basil, cilantro, and parsley to their hearts' content. But if you were stuck buying huge bunches of herbs at the grocery store all winter, chances are you used the two or three tablespoons necessary for a single recipe and then left the rest of the bunch to wilt in your produce drawer.
Waste no more! Any herb, or any of those other wilting greens in your produce drawer, can be turned in a pesto and preserved (pesto freezes really nicely) and used as a pasta topping or an appetizer spread the next time you need food in a hurry. And as the herbs and greens in your garden are harvested this spring, you can turn those into pestos that you can enjoy all next winter.
At its most traditional, Italian pesto is made from fresh basil leaves, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and raw pine nuts, all of which are ground to a smooth paste in a mortar and pestle (in fact, the word "pesto" comes from the verb "pestare," which means "to crush," as with a pestle). But with modern preparation methods (food processor!) and a little creativity, you can make pesto from just about any herb or green veggie (alone or in combinations), along with oil, some sort of nut (raw or roasted), some sort of cheese, and garlic or some other seasoning. There's even a red pesto that gets its color from tomatoes or peppers.
Basic Green Pesto
2 cups fresh herb or veggie leaves, washed
¼ to ½ cup grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan or Romano
¼ to ½ cup raw or roasted nuts; pine nuts or walnuts are traditional, but just about any nut will work
3 cloves minced garlic
½ cup olive oil
Put everything except the oil in a food processor, turn it on, and slowly drizzle in the oil while it is running (you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a silicone scraper once or twice). Whir until smooth or leave as chunky as you like. Add salt and pepper to taste.