Pesto is a lifesaver for the time-poor cook. It can quickly transform basic ingredients into an instant dish. The herbs in pesto are stuffed full if nutrients. Basil is an excellent source of vitamin A and K. Oil and garlic are added to the herbs, as well as calcium-dense cheeses and nuts packed with Vitamin E, making pesto a real superfood. Classic pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan and olive oil, but the basic notion of pesto- a nutty seed pulverised with herbs, hard cheese and oil- is ideal for experimenting with.
Although you can follow tradition and use a pestle and mortar, I find that using a food processor or blender is far quicker. However, increase the quantities by half to achieve a smoother and more even texture. Any excess pesto will refrigerate or freeze well.
You will need:
- 100g basil leaves
- 40g pine nuts
- 80g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and blitz until you have a stiff paste.
Pesto will keep well in your fridge for 4 days; for longer-term storage, spoon the pesto into an ice-cube tray and freeze. I like to pop the frozen out of the tray and keep them in Ziplock bags in the freezer. A cube will defrost quickly: in the time it takes to boil water for pasta, the cube is almost room temperature again.
- Pan-fry a handful of prawns and some finely sliced asparagus in a non-stick pan with a dash of groundnut oil, add a tablespoon of pesto per serving, heat through.
- Spread pesto on top of toasted rye bread and top with grilled asparagus or avocado slices.
- Dollop a few teaspoons of pesto onto a cooking omelette whilst cooking and top with cheese.
- Add a spoonful of pesto to warm new potatoes and stir through. Serve hot or cold.
- Use olive oil to thin the pesto down and use as a dressing for any simple salad.