At Local Pickins, we’re always on the lookout for new twists on old classics, and one of our favorites is the wonderfully adaptable, simple, classic pesto. Pesto is, above all, simple! One should not be wary of trying to experiment a bit, or to brush the dust off an old, time-tested, family recipe.
1. Mango Pesto
Recently, I found a recipe for something unusual, mango pesto, and immediately went off to my neighborhood market to hunt for ingredients. My mango pesto used some standard tools of the trade- one and half cups of fresh basil, one garlic clove, one third cup of olive oil, one quarter cup of toasted pine nuts, plus extra pine nuts to sprinkle on the top. The secret ingredient is, you guessed it, mango. Toasting pine nuts is an easy thing to do wrong, as they burn easily, and I advise anyone undertaking this recipe to pay special attention to this crucial stage. Toast the pine nuts in a dry, small frying pan, on low heat, turning so that they toast evenly. Low heat, frequent stirring, and diligent patience will pay off in perfectly toasted nuts. Next, I placed the basil, garlic, pine nuts, and mango into the food processor. The recipe I used called for 1⁄3 cup of diced mango, but I diced up a whole mango and put half into the sauce, while reserving the other half to throw into the pesto following the preparation. After adding all the ingredients, I poured the juice of one small lemon into the processor, and added a bit of my olive oil. I suggest adding the olive oil gradually throughout the processing stage, as the oil helps to make the basil easy to grind up. Once processed, I poured the pesto into a bowl and added my extra chunks of mango, some diced basil, a few more squirts of lemon and a handful of pine nuts on top. I recommend serving on cucumber, or spaghetti – although eating a few spoonfuls straight is a guilty pleasure I certainly indulged in! If you want a bit of spice, add some red pepper flakes. Also, a pinch of salt and pepper goes well with this pesto.
1 1/2 packed cups of fresh basil
1 garlic clove
1⁄4 cup toasted pine nuts, plus extra to go on top 1⁄3 cup diced mango
1 small lemon, juiced
1⁄3 cup olive oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper
Sliced cucumbers, for serving
2. Arugula Pesto
My second creation puts a wonderful spin on the entire notion of traditional, basil-based pesto. This pesto calls for two cups of baby arugula, which I brought fresh from Grateful Farm based out of Franklin, MA, a wonderful place for fresh produce and herbs. Again, the trickiest part of this recipe is not burning the pine nuts when you are toasting them, be patient! I added in about a 1⁄4 cup of basil to the arugula, just for personal preference, but this pesto would be just as good without the basil! The arugula processes into a light green sauce that was a wonderful, light pesto perfect for any pasta dish or to baste on a chicken. I also added more lemon than this recipe called for, I like lemon a lot and it was a delicious, sour compliment to the slightly bitter, almost peppery taste of the arugula. At dinner time, this was a huge success, and my critics said this was their favorite pesto!
1⁄4 cup toasted pine nuts 2 garlic cloves
2 cups baby arugula
1⁄2 lemon, juiced 1⁄2 teaspoon salt 1⁄4 cup olive oil
3. Mint Pistachio Pesto
By this time, I was a pesto expert, and it took me no time at all to whip up this third sauce; Mint Pistachio, which seemed the most surprising of all my experiments, and was my personal favorite. I got my mint from the Busa Farmstand at 52 Lowell St. in Lexington, MA. Busa has a wide selection of herbs, greens, and veggies all summer long and into the fall. Instead of pine nuts, the recipe called for pistachios, and I toasted them just like my pine nuts, slowly and on low heat. I also used a bit more garlic than they asked, as I prefer a pesto heavier on the garlic. I found myself doubling this recipe, it sounded too good
to skimp on. Throughout this entire process I learned that things like olive oil and lime were best added to my own taste, rather than by following any strict recipes measurements. I added some thyme to the top of my Mint Pistachio pesto, after I poured it from the processor into a glass jar. I think the Mint Pistachio pesto worked the best as a topping for small pieces of toast, or even tortilla chips! Chunky, delicious, and prepared in seconds.
Mint Pistachio Pesto
1 cup mint leaves
1⁄3 cup roasted, salted, shelled pistachios
1 small clove garlic, peeled 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1⁄4 juice of 1/4 lime
4. Spinach and Thyme Pesto
My final pesto was a Spinach and Thyme creation, and I shopped for my baby spinach at Grateful Farm and got my herbs from Busa Farms. The only variation on this recipe from the others was the additional process of removing the thyme leaves from the stems, smashing the garlic instead of dicing it, and also the addition of freshly grated parmesan cheese. I love parmesan in any traditional pesto, but I wanted to move away from this slightly and I only included the Parmesan in this final, fourth pesto sauce. The recipe called for the spinach to be torn into small pieces, which helped the processor deal with the tougher spinach greens. I served this on pasta too, and it was a big hit! The moral of the story, though, is that, no matter what recipes you use, don’t be afraid to get funky with this summer classic. You won’t be sorry – and don’t forget to share with us any particular successes you have in the kitchen.
Spinach and Thyme Pesto
2 cups baby spinach, cleaned and torn into small pieces 1⁄2 cup fresh thyme leaves (stems removed)
1⁄2 cup toasted pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1⁄2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup olive oil plus more for brushing