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Ode to Pesto

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Remember last year’s Ode to Hummus? This one’s similar, but with more leafy greens.

Oh pesto how I love you so;

So many foods with which you go.

So many ways to make you mine.

Each one of them is just as fine.

Here’s the deal with pesto: You take the basic recipe (greens, oil, nuts if you like, cheese if you like, garlic, salt, puree it all together) and add it to just about any savory food…and the food will automatically taste better. (We haven’t tried it with sweets yet but now we’re intrigued.) Grilled chicken slightly dry? Add pesto and it’ll be transformative. Soup too bland? Add a little pesto. Salad making you yawn? Toss in some pesto. Tired of mayo and mustard on your sandwich? Spread some pesto on, and you’ll get the added bonus of a serving of greens.

Of course we also love pesto on roasted potatoes, dipped with crusty bread, and on grilled cheese. But you can’t beat good old pasta for one of the best ways to serve pesto. Toss it in when the pasta is freshly cooked and drained and add grated Parmesan on top – perfection!

This spring we’ve been looking beyond the basil by experimenting with all different types of greens. Kale makes great pesto, as does arugula (a little more peppery). If you don’t have quite enough greens to work with you can supplement with spinach, although the texture becomes a little thinner. For the nuts, we always love pine nuts but we’ve tried pistachios (amazing) and cashews (gives a much creamier texture). You can also experiment with fun add-ins like avocado for a super-creamy pesto.

This one is an avocado-kale pesto tossed with kalamata olives

Of course the next logical question is: “It’s green – will kids actually eat it?” One way to go on this (although this is too late for many kids) is to just serve it as part of your regular rotation while the kids are too small to notice. They’ll think that spaghetti has a red sauce half the time and a green sauce the other half of the time. Another way to approach it is to mix it in with a traditional red sauce, tell them it has extra herbs and spices, and see how they like it, then gradually wean them away from the red. A third way is to let them try a teeny bit plain on a fork. (Our picky eater actually preferred it this way because it was nice and salty.) And you can always try this reasoning: “It’s an easier way to eat a salad!”

Basic pesto recipe

1 large handful (2 cups worth of leaves) basil or other leafy green

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup pine nuts or other nuts to taste (optional)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional)

Add all ingredients to blender or food processor and pulse to combine. Serve immediately or store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. If you want to freeze it, prepare it without the cheese and freeze it in cubes in the ice-cube tray. Thaw cubes as needed, add freshly grated cheese.

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