Originating from the Liguria region of Italy along the humble, arching coastline between the glitzy French and Italian Rivieras, pesto is one of the world’s most treasured sauces.
It’s also one of the world’s most basic sauces.
The fresher, more fragrant the basil, and the more elegant, expressive the olive oil, the better your traditional pesto will be.
My go to basil pesto is from Mark Bittman in his appropriately named book How to Cook Everything. It’s terrific for everything. On a sourdough based sandwich as a spread or added to soup for flavoring or as the sauce for chicken or halibut. Best, that would be leaving the pesto alone as the sauce for al dente linguine, perhaps with a few shrimp tossed in for protein.
Pesto is wonderfully healthy too, though an addition of butter makes it only better. Butter never hurt anybody, right? Basil, garlic, crisped in the skillet walnuts, olive oil, and a hard, umami rich cheese like Parmesan, given a spin in the food processor, and voilà. When served, pesto stays as a chunky salsa, while also fading into a sauce consistency from the olive oil.
With this basil pesto, the garlic and Parmesan really shine through. I prefer pureeing the Parmesan with the other ingredients unlike the recipe says. When the Parmesan is stirred in, the cheese flavor is too strong.
Of course, the more basil, the merrier.
Pesto is brilliant with other bases too, besides basil. Cilantro? Of course. Arguably my favorite is arugula pesto. All of the other ingredients are the same. Arugula’s sharp bite is a perfect foil for buttery scallops.
Really with all of the pestos, the major questions are: What herb or plant to use and should I cook the garlic?
For part one, that’s up to you. What month is it? For part two, do you plan on kissing somebody tonight? If so, cook the garlic.