Because there's so much more to pesto than basil and olive oil.
If there were a sauce that screamed ~summer~ it would have to be pesto. Refreshing, light, and vibrantly green, pesto is the perfect accompaniment for pasta, salad, fish, chicken, grilled vegetables, pizza, sandwiches, eggs, bread—the list goes on. (For inspo, check out these healthy pesto recipes that don't involve pasta.) Basically, you can put pesto on just about anything and it will take the flavor to a whole other level. Bonus: Pesto packs a powerful nutritional punch, providing healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, protein, antioxidants, and a variety of other vitamins and minerals.
We're all familiar with the classic pesto recipe—basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan. But did you know that pesto is extremely versatile and can be made with just about any ingredients you have on hand? That's right, pesto follows a pretty simple equation that allows for a lot of customization: greens/herbs + oil + nuts + cheese/cheese alternative, plus garlic, lemon, salt, and pepper to taste. And with an abundance of fresh herbs and greens at our fingertips this summer, what better way to use them up than in a fresh pesto? (FYI, you can easily freeze leftovers in an ice cube tray and pop 'em out when you need 'em!)
So bust out the food processor or high-speed blender and get started on these four creative and healthy ways to make pesto.
1. Arugula + Walnut Oil + Walnuts + Parmesan
Arugula is a peppery, astringent green that's abundant during the spring and summer months. It's loaded with vitamins A and C and is a good source of folate and calcium, too. The walnuts in this pesto help to balance out the bitter taste of the arugula while providing a host of additional vitamins and minerals, including heart-healthy omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). In fact, walnuts contain the highest amount of ALA compared to other nuts, so you can rely on this pesto to give you a dose of your plant-based omega-3. (Try my recipe for Arugula Pesto on Brie + Asparagus Grilled Cheese for starters!)
2. Kale + Almond Oil + Almonds + Nutritional Yeast
Often touted as a superfood (for good reason!), kale is packed with vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. This dark, leafy green is a member of the Brassica family, which also includes vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. These cruciferous veggies have been studied for their health benefits in protecting against cancers and other chronic diseases. Almonds also provide a nutrition boost; when compared ounce for ounce, almonds are the tree nut highest in protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin, and niacin. Nutritional yeast is a dairy-free, vegan-friendly cheese alternative that can be used in pesto to impart that cheesy, umami flavor. Plus, it scores bonus points for being a good source of B12, a nutrient of concern for those following a vegan diet.
3. Carrot Tops + Basil + Hemp Oil + Hemp Hearts + Feta
Ever buy a bunch of carrots from your farmers' market and loathe having to toss out those beautiful greens on top? Good news: You don't have to! With a taste similar to parsley, carrot top greens actually make a delicious and gorgeous green pesto. Like other leafy greens, carrot tops are high in fiber and antioxidants. Hemp hearts, aka hemp seeds, also impart a nutritious punch and a nutty flavor—they're high in protein and contain all 10 essential amino acids, are a good source of plant-based omega 3s, and provide magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorous and fiber. In fact, Manitoba Harvest's hemp hearts contain 10 grams of plant-based protein and 10 grams of omega-3 and omega-6 per 3-tablespoon serving. (That's more than a comparable serving of chia or flax!) Hemp oil is also a nutty alternative to olive oil and with its low smoke point, it's perfect in dips and dressings like pesto. (For a delicious pesto recipe using hemp hearts and hemp oil, check out my Grilled Hemp Pesto Peach Flatbread.)
4. Garlic Scapes + Basil + Avocado Oil + Sunflower Seeds + Parmesan Cheese
Garlic scapes are one of those things you see at the farmers' market and are like what in the...because they look like a wild green curly mess. But garlic scapes are just the flower bud (more like flower stalk) of the garlic plant, which gets harvested around this time of year—and they taste just like your beloved garlic. You can use garlic scapes as the sole "green" component of the pesto (bonus: garlic provides antioxidants and sulfur compounds that may play a role in immune function and chronic disease prevention). But it's pretty pungent so I suggest rounding it out with a little basil. The avocado oil packs in healthy monounsaturated fats, and sunflower seeds provide iron, B6, and magnesium. (Got pesto fever? Check out more healthy pesto recipes you'll want to make right now.)