The first time I ever had pesto I was about 10. I went with my mom to a neighbor’s house and we dined al fresco as the golden light faded on one of those summer nights that seemed to last forever. I thought that “green spaghetti” was the funnest food I’d ever seen, in addition to being delicious.
Full disclosure, part of the reason this memory is burned into my mind is because we lived in Portland, Oregon at the time. Warm and sunny happened less often than a Kardashian staying off social media.
Pesto might not seem like a big deal today, but in 1980 this was the introduction of what was considered a crazy foreign food to the American mainstream. Even The Kitchn defines pesto as being in the top 10 ubiquitous foods of the 80s. Another was poppy seed dressing if that says anything.
Pesto is definitely a staple in our house. Even the seven-year-old loves it and will gamely gag down some tomatoes if it gets him a bowl of green smothered pasta. Making it yourself is a breeze and only has a few ingredients:
- fresh basil
- olive oil
- parmesan (or parmigianno reggiano if you’re fancy. Sometimes I can afford to be fancy. Mostly not.)
Now here is an interesting fact that I just learned. Pesto has pine nuts. Pistou is pesto without the pine nuts.
There’s another 80s reference for you.
I am not a pine nut fan and here’s why. There is a ‘syndrome’ known as “pine mouth”; a bitter, metallic taste experienced after eating pine nuts. It typically begins after about 12 to 48 hours after and LASTS BETWEEN A FEW DAYS AND TWO WEEKS and ANYTHING YOU EAT MAKES IT WORSE.
Sorry to yell, but GAH! This is such a deal and so many people have experienced it that the FDA is tracking and researching it. It is not in anyway considered an allergic reaction. At one point it was thought that pine nuts from China were more likely to cause pine mouth, so you might want to check the origin when purchasing, however research is showing that most people experience pine mouth to some degree anytime they’re eaten. I’ve never had it that bad but I do get a weird flavor so I avoid them when I can.
That right there is a great reason to make your own. Also the packaged brands I’ve tried aren’t great. If you look at the ingredients, there is often more parsley than basil to keep the pesto a bright green color. The oil will be a nondescript vegetable oil. There will be preservatives and weirdness. In a pinch, I will use the one they make fresh at the medium-fancy grocery store. It is on the kiosk cart thing with the self serve olives if you’re looking for it.
When you make it yourself, you can make it anyway you want. Cheesy, garlicky, salty, low-fat whatever. It’s all in your control, and how often can you say that about anything? I’ll take it!
Don’t worry about making a whole big batch because pesto freezes beautifully! I freeze it in cup size portions, but ice cube trays work great if you want it in smaller amounts.
There are also a million delicious ways to use pesto, but here are some of my favorites.
Following is a recipe for pesto cavatappi which is the house favorite here, and the way we have it 9 out of 10 times. I always add some Oven Poached Chicken because a dinner without protein doesn’t cut if for the husband. It is a fast and furious dinner, just like we need in the burbs.
If you can’t find cavatappi, you can use any shape of pasta. Here is a recipe for Creamy Fettuccine with Vegetable Ribbons where I really get my pasta nerd on and go into the different shapes of pasta and when to use which.
If you want to know why this post is Pesto Cavatappi Redux you can check out the original which was one of my first posts here and then we can awkwardly laugh together. It’s okay, I know it’s hideous.
Wine Pairing: White or light rose. Either a big unoaked chard or any white with citrus notes (chenin blanc, pinot grigio, sav/fume blanc, viognier) would taste great. If you like it a little sweeter, a Riesling with citrus notes would be delicious too.
Side Dishes: Since this is a one dish meal, serve with a green salad or fresh fruit. Garlic bread!
- In a blender of food processor combine, but don't make into a perfectly smooth puree the following. Use about a cup for this recipe and refrigerate or freeze the rest.
- 4 ounce container basil, stems discarded (2 cups)
- ½-2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup parmesan
- Salt to taste.
- Optional - 2 tablespoons toasted pinenuts
- Pesto Cavatappi
- 8 oz (half a box) cavatappi or penne or any kind of pasta
- ¼ cup roasted red peppers
- ½ cup halved grape tomatoes
- 1 cup pesto
- ½-1 cup crumbled feta or other cheese
- Optional; 1 or two cooked chicken breasts, diced (use your Oven Poached Chicken) or a grocery rotisserie chicken
- Optional: any cooked veggies you want to throw in, extra cheese for topping
- Prepare pasta according to package directions.
- While pasta cooks, blend the pesto ingredients.
- Put the diced chicken into the colander and drain the pasta over it to warm the chicken.
- Put the pasta and chicken back into the pot. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
- That's it!