Blog, Dinner

Daddy’s Favorite Pesto: Anytime of the Year

0 Comments 09 September 2012

If you don’t make your own pesto, I implore you to do so.  Easy, quick, versatile and best of all: scrumptious!!  With minimal ingredients and fresh, organic basil widely available at the market (or maybe you grow your own), I find myself leaning on pesto when I’m in a pinch for a quick dinner.

To say that my family fancies pesto is truly an understatement.  Ask my husband what his last meal on earth would be, and he doesn’t give pause: my wife’s Pesto!!  I’ve had people ask me about it because my husband brags, umm, err, evangelizes about it.  My 3 and 4 year olds gobble it up and ask for seconds.  Even my picky-palate-Kate, is known to finish eye-popping portions.  Oh, lest I not forget, my cherubs have recently requested it for breakfast.  Really.


Needless to say, this is one of our tried and true family recipes.  The kids have been eating pesto for as long as I can remember…Despite the fact that it is GREEN!  I suspect it had to do with the way I framed it as “Daddy’s most favorite food EVER”, said with an overly excited voice and big eyes while extending my arms to the sky.  One key role of a mother is “marketer extraordinaire”.  Kids don’t always know what is good for them, so you gotta sell it…sometimes sell it had-core.  There are times when that means some unconventional antics, like whipping out your thespian skills or embellishing certain details.  Sure, maybe their affection for pesto started out as a result of my tactics, but now it’s all about the purely delicious merits.  Even more shocking is their steadfast love.   See, toddler and preschooler preferences are ever evolving; what they like one week, they won’t touch with a ten-foot pole the next.  Fair-weathered you could say.  Not the case in our house.  Any time of year.  Any time of the day for that matter.  My Irish twins love their pesto.

Her third serving, no joke.

It seems a bit odd for me to coin this as a “recipe”.  It feels more like a “method”.  By that, I mean that the instructions may provide the structure, but your palate is the key.  You need to taste as you go.  Seems to be a theme with the way that I cook, huh?  Want more kick?  Add more garlic.  Want some toothy substance?  Add a touch more walnuts at the very end.  And of course, the level of salt and pepper is truly a personal preference.  Make it a few times, and you will kick the recipe to the curbside.  If you know the ingredients (there are *only* 5, not counting salt and pepper!) then all you do is dump them in the food processor.  Or better yet, have your kids partake.  It literally takes more time to wash the basil.  Or your hair.  Super-fast, my dear friends.

just whizzed in the trusty, indispensable food processor


Make no mistake, this pesto is assertive, brimming with fresh basil flavor, rounded out by the creaminess of parmesan and roasted walnuts, and punctuated with the delightful bite of raw garlic!  It is viscous, not wimpy and runny.  If you give some thought to the purpose of pesto, it makes sense to load it with flavor as it generally is paired with pasta or bread.  The flavor will be diluted by whatever it is paired with; remember that while tasting the finished pesto.

Typically we pair this pesto with pasta.  Any pasta will do.  We love gemelli or cavatappi; the sort of pastas that have nooks and crannies where the pesto can clump up are good choices.  We usually eat it warm or at room temperature.

Pesto with rigatoni pasta. The kids called these “pesto straws”.


I sometimes make chilled pesto pasta salad with kalamata olives, sliced cherry tomatoes, and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar.  My kids just ate the recent leftovers for lunch as a crostini: toasted bread topped with pesto and leftover flank steak pieces.  Love those little epicures.  I could eat pesto on paper and be happy.  It is that good.  Joking aside, here are some other ways we enjoy it:

On top of grilled or roasted chicken

Within a wrap, add greens and veggies of your choice

Mixed into rice, couscous, or wheatberries

Pizza or Calzone – use the pesto in place of the red sauce

Add to a frittata or scrambled eggs

On top of fresh mozzarella or a caprese salad

Baked into breadsticks

On top of bagels, toast, crackers, wood, whatever (just kidding about the wood)

It can adorn anything really!

There are an infinite number of versions for Pesto, and I’ve experimented over many years with different concepts.  Think of it as a template.  Swap out the basil for some parsley, arugula, cilantro, or a combination thereof.  Same thing goes for the nuts.  I’ve tried pistachios, pine nuts, hazelnuts, among others.  Give it a spin.  Concoct your own version and family favorite.  This recipe is without a doubt my go-to version. A close second is an arugula hazelnut version that I particularly adore in a red potato salad.

When adding any pesto to cooked pasta, I usually add a couple tablespoons of the cooked pasta water to aid in even distribution.  Leftover pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.  The key to storing is to add a thin film of olive oil on top of the pesto surface, then cover with plastic wrap, taking care to have the plastic film in contact with the surface of the oil.  You are trying to prevent air contact (oxidation) with the pesto.  Notice how a pesto pasta dish will darken in color once it’s been out for a bit?  This is oxidation happening.  It still tastes delicious, but the green is not as bright.  A trick I’ve used in the past is to substitute 1/3 of the basil quantity for flat leaf parsley.  This helps to maintain more fresh green color, which can be helpful if you are taking a dish somewhere.  It does impact the flavor a bit.  Generally, we are eating it at home so we don’t fret over the color as we are entirely consumed with the explosive, exquisite flavor.

I will never forget Carter asking, “Mommy, can I have this for breakfast tomorrow?”

And why not.


Daddy’s Favorite Pesto

4 cups fresh organic basil*

3 garlic cloves

1 cup roasted walnut pieces (see below)

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan, strongly recommend Parmigianino Reggiano

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

½ cup extra virgin olive oil (or more)

Method: Wash and dry the basil.  In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place the basil, garlic, half of the walnuts, cheese, salt and about 4 turns of cracked pepper.  Pulse 3 times.  Turn the food processor on and pour in all of the olive oil through the pour spout in a steady stream.  Stop the processor, scrape down the sides of the workbowl and add the rest of the walnuts (this will ensure that all of the nuts are not completely incorporated).  Process for a few seconds or until desired consistency is achieved.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Use immediately or store in the refrigerator with a thin film of olive oil on top and plastic wrap adhered to the surface of the pesto.  If you would like it thinner in consistency, add more olive oil.

*4 cups refers to gently packed basil in the measuring cup (about 4 oz net weight).

Makes enough for about 4-5 cups of pasta.  We prefer our pasta loaded with the pesto.  Some people like their pasta barely dressed (weird!).  If you’re lucky, there will be a little left over (a small ramekin’s worth) for sandwiches or just adorning crusty bread or crudités.  Just enough to nudge you to make another batch, after all, it is terribly easy.

Roasting Walnuts:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Arrange walnuts in a baking dish in a single layer.  Bake 8-10 minutes, checking frequently.


Do you make your own pesto?  

If so, what’s your favorite way to eat it? 

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