So, pesto. Basil, parmesan, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts. Always the same, and always delicious. But what happens when your basil goes bad? Or you’re fresh out of college and can’t afford pine nuts? Welcome to my life. Luckily, there are options. Actually, lots of options. Options that a pesto-traditionalist would probably have a seizure over, but are nontheless delicious.
This past summer I was reading Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite (if there’s one thing I love, it’s food memoirs), in which she includes several pesto variations. I have been making my pesto sans parmesan and with almonds instead of pine nuts for some time, but the other ingredients have always stayed the same. After reading Clark’s recipes, I decided to give some of them a whirl. As a fennel enthusiast, her fennel-frond pesto was the first thing I tried, and for most of the summer when fennel was still available at the farmer’s market, I was making a huge batch at least once a week. As it got colder, I went back to my version of basil pesto. I recently went out to dinner at a nearby vegetarian restaurant (linked for those of you like me who love reading menus online), where my boyfriend got one of their specials, which had a cilantro-ginger-walnut pesto. One bite of his meal, and I knew we’d have to do some recreating in our own kitchen. Both of these pestos are good on pastas or pizzas, or mixed with some sauteed or roasted vegetables.
Fennel Frond Pesto
1 fennel bulb with LOTS of bushy fronds (the green, leafy, dill-looking part attached to it. the bushier, the better)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
small handful of almonds
salt ‘n pepper
Remove the fronds from the bulb/thick stalks, then give a quick chop. Then roughly chop the garlic and almonds. Throw all of this into the food processor, adding the oil 1 tbsp at a time until it becomes the proper-consistency (not too runny, not too thick. I usually use all 4 tbsp of olive oil). Add salt and pepper to taste and mix up. Now yr done.
This pesto in particular goes really well with roasted root vegetables–sweet potatoes, squash, fingerling potatoes, and of course, fennel. Clark puts hers on top of some pan-seared fish, which sounds delicious.
Cilantro Ginger Walnut Pesto
1 bunch cilantro (probably 2 cups chopped? It usually comes in bunches, just get a bunch and trust me.)
1/2c (medium sized handful) or walnuts
1 inch thick slice of fresh ginger
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
salt ‘n pepper
Same as above, pretty much. Give the cilantro, ginger, and garlic all their own quick, rough chops. Toss them and the walnuts into a processor, and add olive oil little by little until it’s pesto-y. Hit it up with a little s&p, mix, and dig in.
This one works best with a range of vegetables–we put it on brown rice pasta (excuse the clumps in the photo below, it’s pretty much inevitable) with some sauteed butternut squash, summer squash, onions, and mushrooms. Tossing this into a some sort of cold, bulgur or quinoa salad with cucumbers and red onion would probably be SO good, too.
It just goes to show, change can be good. Next time your pesto craving hits, try something new !! You won’t be disappointed.