Candace Karu

Presto! It's Pesto.

RecipesCandace1 Comment

In the waning days of this perfect summer, my first garden (thanks in large part of my new housemate and garden god, David) is going bananas. There aren't a lot of veggies -- several varieties of tomatoes and some random, accidental squash -- but we have herbs in abundance.


Bountiful Basil


Plentiful Parsley

pestocilantro1 Copious Cilantro



Tons of Tomatoes

Given the bumper crop of potential pesto ingredients, I spent Sunday having my own little Pestopalooza. I cranked some vintage Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club and got down to business.

A classic Italian pesto is fresh, simple, and delicious, a summer-green puree of basil, garlic, pine nuts, and extra virgin olive oil. I'm a sucker for tradition so I thought I'd start with the tried and true. But since it's me, and I can almost never leave well enough alone, I've tweaked the traditional recipe with a few twists.


2 cups fresh basil leaves, stems removed

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

2-4 cloves garlic, chopped

2/3 cup Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (or any sharp Cabot cheddar), shredded

1 tbl. lemon zest

l tbl. lemon juice

3-4 tbls. extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Throw it all in a food processor or blender until its bright green and creamy.


A classic basil pesto usually relies on the addition of Parmesan cheese. I chose to substitute Cabot Clothbound, which you might know from previous posts, is a particular favorite of mine. It had the same rich depth of flavor as Parmesan, but brings a new nutty and earthy presence to the party.

You can add more olive oil, or less for that matter. Not a big fan of garlic? Add one tiny clove or leave it out. And the lemon zest and juice? Skip it altogether if it doesn't ring your chimes. All these amounts are in the "ish" mode. Just keep tasting and adjust to your liking.

Since I had lovely and copious ripe tomatoes, I immediately put my pesto to work on a Caprese salad.


Readers, it was heaven on a plate!

But wait...there's more. Following the Pesto Classico-ish, I continued down the road to a couple more garden purees of unparallelled yumminess.

Next came:


2 cups parsley, stems removed

1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted

2-4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 cup Cabot Clothbound cheddar, shredded

1/3 cup Parmegiano-Reggiano, shredded

2-3 tbls. extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and ground pepper to taste


An aside: This is how I measured two cups of herbs, lightly packed.

Follow instructions above; that is, toss everything in the food processor and give it a whirl. These are simple, basic recipes that give you great latitude for measurements and flavors. I love this Parsley Pesto Perfecto over store-bought three cheese tortellini. As you add the pesto, you can thin it with a little water from the pasta pot. It helps the puree adhere to the tortellini. Sprinkle a little of the shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano on top and dinner is served!

The last pesto I made was for my daughter, who has life-threatening food allergies, which means all cheese must leave. Necessity being the mother of invention, here are the ingredients for:


2 cups cilantro leaves, stems removed

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

2-4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/8 tsp. ground cumin

1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes

Zest of 1 med. lime

Juice of 1 med. lime

2-4 tbls. extra virgin olive oil

2 oz. firm tofu

Don't be alarmed by that last ingredient. It helps with the consistency of the pesto and doesn't taste at all tofu-y.

One more time...just toss it all in the food processor and have at it. This version has a decidedly south-of-the-border flavor with just a hint of heat. I add it as a garnish/topping on black beans and rice or tacos. I have also dropped a few tablespoons in with a can of drained cannellini beans, put them through the food processor and come out with a delightful dip for veggies or crackers.

So in this season of bountiful gifts from the herb garden, why not try a pesto of your very own?