Pesto: What is it and how to use it

Pesto is the Italian word for “pounded.” Pesto is an uncooked sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, pinenuts, Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and olive oil.  The ingredients can either be crushed with mortor and pestle ot finely chopped with a food processor.  This classic, fresh-tasting sauce originated in Genoa, Italy and although used on a variety of dishes, it is a favorite with pasta.  Now there are “pestos” made from lots of other ingredients from cilantro to mint. You can also buy pre-made pesto at your grocery store.  Look for it in the area where they sell tomato and spaghetti sauces.  I have used pesto for things like sauce on pizza, in pasta salads and combined with Alfredo sauce for a different topping for pasta!

Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/3 cup pine nuts

2 medium garlic cloves

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, process basil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese to a rough paste.  With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the feed tube.  If the sauce seems dry, (it should be a thick paste) add a little more olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Use immediately or store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.  Makes enough for 1 pound of pasta.

Pesto Cheese Dip

1/2 cup basil

1/4 pound mozzarella cheese, fresh if possible

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. If using packaged cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes and place in oven safe serving dish. If using fresh cheese, slice it and place in oven safe serving dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 4-6 minutes or until cheese begins to melt. Remove from oven and drop pesto by teaspoonfuls over cheese. Top with Parmesan cheese and return to oven for 1 minute. Serve with crackers. Serves 6-8.

Pasta, Pesto and Peas

3/4 pound fusilla

3/4 pound bowtie

1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 cups pesto (packaged or see recipe above)

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/4 cups good mayonnaise

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted

1/3 cup pine nuts

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook the fusilli and bow ties separately in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 to 12 minutes until each pasta is al dente.  Drain  and toss into a bowl with the olive oil. Cool to room temperature.  In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree the pesto, spinach, and lemon  juice. Add the mayonnaise and puree. Add the pesto mixture to the cooled pasta and then add the Parmesan, peas, pignoli, salt, and pepper. Mix well, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

Creamy Pesto Meatballs

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 (1-pound) package frozen precooked meatballs

1 (20-ounce) bottle Alfredo sauce

1/4 cup milk

1 (9-ounce) jar pesto sauce

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In 3-1/2 quart slow cooker, place onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Top with meatballs. Pour Alfredo sauce over all. Pour milk into Alfredo sauce jar; tighten lid and shake well. Pour this mixture into the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours until meatballs are hot and tender. If you have a new hot crockpot, cook on low for 4-1/2 to 6 hours. Stir in pesto sauce and cheese. Cover and cook on low for 10-15 minutes until mixture is hot and cheese is melted. Serve over hot cooked rice. Serves 4

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