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Pasta with pesto may be cliché, but it isn’t tired

August 27th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Food preparation, recipes

My first taste of basil pesto, at least 15 years ago, was a revelation. Here was a truly vibrant flavor—pungent and invigorating with its blend of basil and garlic, complex with its olive oil, nuts and cheese. I immediately sought out a recipe to make it, and make it I did. The first summer or two I made up enough to get me through the winter.

Pasta with pesto + tomatoes is summer on a plate

Nowadays, you can buy readymade pesto in supermarkets (although I don’t), and I’ve come to conclude that my frozen pesto loses some of its potency, although I’m not sure whether it’s from time or repetition. In any case, I don’t make so much of it now as I used to, but, rest assured, I still make it and still freeze some for a shot of summer sometime during the winter months.

I don’t fuss over pesto-making. My years-ago recipe search revealed dozens of pesto variations, some with pine nuts, others with walnuts; some with other herbs thrown in, some with cream; some with more garlic, others with less. My conclusion is that you can make it just about any way you like it, and it will probably be good.

On the off chance you don’t have a recipe, you can use the following one.

Basil pesto

  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 4 cups loosely packed basil leaves, washed and dried
  • 3/4 cup excellent olive oil, approximately
  • 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  1. Place garlic, pine nuts and salt in bowl of food processor with metal blade. Pulse several times to mince garlic and nuts. Add basil and pulse several times to mince. Scrape down sides of bowl.
  2. With motor running, slowly add olive oil and puree. Mixture will absorb most of the oil.
  3. Add Parmesan. Pulse to blend. Mixture should have consistency of a thick paste. Makes about 2 cups, enough for 1 pound pasta.

How to use pesto

You can use your pesto as a condiment, to add flavor to a soup, as a spread on bruschetta. My favorite, though, remains as a pasta sauce (although “pasta coating” might be a more apt description). Pasta with pesto served with fresh vine-ripened tomatoes just may be one of summer’s most perfect meals.

To use with pasta, add two or three tablespoons of pasta-cooking water to the pesto to warm and thin it. Add the mixture to hot pasta (cooked just until tender), and toss. Serve immediately.

Variations in technique and ingredients

Don’t have a food processor? You can do it by hand, and Heidi at 101 Cookbooks recommends it that way, using a knife or a mezzaluna. Corby Kummer does it with mortar and pestle.

If you like the idea but don’t like this particular version of pesto, just do a Google search on “pesto,” and you’ll find more recipes than you’ll know what to do with. Or, just add more or less of each of the ingredients above until you arrive at a version you adore.


You can keep your pesto in the refrigerator for up to a week. Be sure to cover it with a film of olive oil or apply plastic wrap directly to the surface to prevent the pesto from turning very dark. Don’t keep it in the fridge longer, though, as basil stored in an air-free environment like that has the potential, though small, of developing the botulin toxin.

For leftovers, I recommend storing it in a plastic zipper-lock bag in the freezer, but you can also freeze it in ice cube trays and then transfer the cubes to a bag.

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