From broccoli stems to bean leaves, from pine nuts to pistachios, and with cheese or without, turn almost anything into pesto with this flexible formula. 

Makes
1 cup

Preparation

10min

Skill level

Easy
By
Average: 5 (1 vote)
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Preparing your own pesto out of the odds and ends from your pantry and produce bin is simple once you know the formula. The proportion of greens can vary by up to a cup, give or take, as it depends on whether you use the tender leaves of vegetables or their denser stems and stalks. Stronger-flavored herbs, like sage and tarragon, should be paired with milder tasting herbs like parsley and basil. Stems from a few different greens can be tossed in together, so save your stems throughout the week and turn them into an “anything goes” stem pesto. I often add a small handful of herbs or greens (like cilantro or spinach) to my stem pesto for a smoother texture.

You can make pesto with many other herbs besides basil, as well as other leafy greens. You can substitute crumbly Cotija for grated Parmesan or pumpkin seeds for pine nuts. You can omit the cheese entirely or add other spices to give it more heat. And you can make the pesto as thin or as thick as you like, to use as a sauce for pastas and pizzas or a spread for sandwiches and crostini.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (weight will vary) packed herbs or greens (see Note)
  • ½ cup (weight will vary) grated hard cheese (see Note)
  • ⅓ cup (weight will vary) toasted nuts or seeds (see Note)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ¼ to ½ cup (60 to 125 ml) oil
  • Salt to taste

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.

Instructions

1. In a food processor, combine all the ingredients (except the oil) and pulse until crumbly, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Continue pulsing and add the oil in a steady stream until smooth and well blended. Use ¼ cup oil for a thicker paste or up to ½ cup oil for a thinner sauce.

 

Notes

• Herbs or greens: The flowers and leaves of basil, parsley, coriander, mint, sage, thyme, tarragon and nasturtiums; the fronds and flowers of dill and fennel; rosemary, oregano and marjoram flowers; chive blossoms; garlic chives; scallions; green garlic shoots; garlic scapes; dandelions; rocket; spinach; watercress; mache; carrot greens; kale and/or kale stems; silverbeet and/or silverbeet stems; broccoli and cauliflower stems; shelled peas and/or pea shoots; shelled faba beans and/or faba leaves; bean leaves;

• Cheeses:  Parmesan, pecorino, grana Padano, asiago, cotija  (for a vegan pesto, see here)

• Nuts or seeds: Pine nuts, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, cashews, macadamias, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds.  

• If you don’t use all the pesto right away, pack it tightly into an airtight jar and pour a thin layer of olive oil on top before refrigerating. The oil will help prevent the pesto from oxidising and turning brown (though it’s still perfectly edible when it’s discolored).

• You can also freeze pesto. See here for Linda Ly's tips on three easy ways to freeze pesto. 

 

Recipe and image from The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook: Recipes and Techniques for Whole Plant Cooking by Linda Ly, photography by Will Taylor (Harvard Common Press, $35)