Pesto’s name comes from the Italian word pestare, which means to pound or crush, and the sauce can be made with a mortar and pestle. Hailing from Genoa, in Italy, its traditional ingredient is basil, which is mixed with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
Why to love it: It’s bright and peppy and the green color brightens up every dish. And it’s so versatile. Margery Schiffman of Conant Valley Jams makes a pesto without nuts for people who have allergies. They’re available at the Pleasantville Farmers Market, and “they sell like crazy,” says her husband, Chuck Dorris.
Make it your own: Basil is the go-to herb, but substitute it anything from cilantro to ramps to arugula to spinach. Try different nuts too, like walnuts, almonds and even sunflower seeds.
A winner of a recipe from “The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm” (Clarkson Potter) by Sam Beall. Makes 1 1/2 cups.
- 1/4 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
- 1 clove of garlic, coarsely chopped
- Zest and juice of 1 1/2 lemons (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 4 cups loosely packed baby arugula, stems removed
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup finely shredded local hard, sheep’s milk cheese (or similar) or pecorino
- In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, place the sunflower seeds and garlic and pulse to finely chop the seeds. Add the lemon zest and juice and pulse to combine. Add the parsley and half the arugula and pulse to combine.
- With the machine running, add half of the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the rest of the arugula and pulse to combine. With the machine running, add the rest of the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the cheese, salt and pepper and process until smooth.