A Pesto for Every Pantry and Mood

I don’t worry too much about my food obsessions, which fade in and out all year long. They have a way of naturally sorting themselves out: The habit will become too expensive to sustain (I’m thinking of the boxes of stretchy, wrinkly, extremely satisfying yuba noodles that I buy and want to eat constantly!). Or the season will end on something I can’t get enough of, like those big, frilly, extra-fragrant bunches of basil at the farmers market.

For now, I’m constantly referencing Samin Nosrat’s recipe for pesto, because it’s perfect. But as basil fades away, or my pantry and fridge become disorganized — both are seasonal, cyclical inevitabilities — I’ll have to follow it more and more loosely, substituting in other greens and nuts. (The key directive of her recipe is to break down the nuts first, then add the garlic and olive oil, and finally add the greens, whether raw or blanched.)

If you’ve got everything you need to make a classic Ligurian pesto right now, that’s great. But if you don’t, or just prefer to mess around, there are plenty of delicious variations.

If you can’t find great basil, or can’t find much of it, you can always make something a little different, and make up the difference with blanched spinach, nettles, arugula, radish or beet tops, and later in the year, garlic scapes and ramps.

David Tanis makes a beautiful pesto out of parsley, then uses it to dress tender ricotta dumplings. Alexa Weibel makes a version of pesto with sun-dried tomatoes, and Ali Slagle’s vegan pesto comes together with raw cashews, kale and a little basil (though you could replace the basil with whatever other soft greens you have on hand). Avocado can also lend the sauce an unexpected silkiness.

Whatever pesto deviation you make, you can use it to dress hot pasta, to build French bread pizza or to stuff some shells. You can stir it into a luxurious bowl of creamy beans in a hot broth or season a bowl of vegetable soup. Spread it on bread for a more complex sandwich, as in this mushroom melt, or layer it into a potato gratin.

Leave a Reply