When it comes to the pesto-making process, there are a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way. These will help you to achieve sauce success:
Pine nuts offer a richer flavor and they’re more traditional, but I could not always find them in Argentina or Mexico. I often use walnuts instead, and they make a delicious substitute that’s more economical as well.
Lightly toast your pine nuts or walnuts in a dry saute pan, being very careful not to burn them. Because nuts contain a lot of oil, they will burn easily.
I like the extra depth of flavor added by toasting the nuts, but a raw vegan pesto that’s dairy-free also delicious – just skip the toasting step for the nuts and seeds.
You can also experiment not only with adding fresh lemon juice (or lime), but you can even try adding a little zest and see how you like it.
To easily collect the zest, you may want to consider investing in a microplane or a specialty zester to make the job easier.
Lemon zest has a sweet lemony flavor, whereas the juice is sour, and the white pith is bitter. As always, buy organic whenever possible, especially if you will be using the zest.
Adjust to Taste
You can adjust all of the ingredients slightly, according to personal tastes. If you like it cheesier, add more cheese. If you love basil or garlic, add some extra. Try different varieties of basil for a different taste.
After you’ve made it a few times, you won’t even need to take measurements. I usually mix this up in the food processor and then taste it when I am done, making any necessary final adjustments to the seasoning or quantity of other ingredients.
The Original & An Alternative Method
If you want the texture to be thicker and coarser, you can also use a large mortar and pestle instead of the food processor. That is the classic way of making pesto, and the original method used in Italy.
Because I prefer mine to be less chunky and I think it’s easier, I use the food processor method. It’s all about your personal tastes, though!
Another important thing to keep in mind when making this sauce is that, even if the grocery store doesn’t have your chosen ingredients in stock, all is not lost.
I made this the other night using Italian flat leaf parsley and walnuts, and it was absolutely delicious. My supermarket did not have pine nuts or basil when I went, so I used these alternative ingredients instead. Spectacular!
Health & Nutritional Info
Raw basil provides the following potential health benefits:1
- Antioxidant rich
- Anti-stress solution
- Antibacterial properties
- Antimicrobial properties
- Blood vessel protector
- Cancer fighter
- Combats stress
- Diabetes preventer
- Fever reducer (antipyretic)
- Immune booster
- Liver protector (hepatoprotective)
- Pain reducer (analgesic)
- Vitamins A, K, and C, as well as manganese
If raw garlic is just too much for you, you can roast or caramelize it. But please try it raw first!
Try using just one clove of raw garlic to start, instead of what the recipe calls for. This can be adjusted according to personal taste.
Not only is this the classic way of making this style of pesto, but it really is wonderful.
Another cool benefit is that raw ingredients often have more bioavailable nutrients than cooked, and some even have essential oils and other compounds that offer therapeutic qualities, as is the case with garlic and basil.
Raw garlic may offer the following benefits:
- Antioxidant rich
- Cancer cell killer
- Immune booster
- May reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and infections
- May improve iron metabolism
- Good source of selenium
Read more about the use and health benefits of garlic.
If you must roast your garlic instead of consuming it raw, preheat the oven to 400˚F. Just wrap the bulb in foil with a little olive oil, and cook for about 45 minutes. The cloves inside should be nice and soft when finished, and they will slide easily right out of their little clove casings when squeezed, nice and caramelized. Yummy!
You should also substitute this citrus-forward variation of sauce in our recipe for pesto salad salad!
If you loved this lemony comfort food, then you might like our Greek-style lemon orzo soup, too.
Do you have any unique takes on pesto? Or a preferred pasta variety? Be sure to tell us and the community in the comments below.
And check out these other fabulous recipes:
- Basil Pesto Chicken Pasta with Asparagus and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Fresh Pesto Pasta Salad with Green Peas
- Portobello Burgers with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
- Camembert Cheese & Pistachio Basil Pesto Bruschetta
- Sunflower Seed Spinach Pesto with Grilled Chicken
1. The World’s Healthiest Foods (whfoods.com). http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
Photos by Kendall Vanderslice, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu and Kendall Vanderslice.
About Lori Jo Hendrix
Lori was born in southern California and currently resides in Mexico. She is an actress and model who also writes in the fields of nutrition, wellness, and cuisine. Her passions include working as a volunteer with various groups in the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned and injured animals.