Three Ways to Enjoy Pesto

I always make my own pesto. Partly this is because the jars once opened have to be used up fairly quickly and they are usually too big for one person – and mainly I’m cooking just for myself. But really, the main reason is taste: there is just no bought pesto that comes close to the homemade kind.

Having said the jars are usually too big (I know they’re actually quite small in themselves but they do hold a lot of pesto – there’s only so much you need for one serving and then you have to think of ways to use the rest), I invariably make too much . But a couple of nights’ ago, I actually made too much for one meal on purpose with a view to writing this post.

Making your own pesto is very easy and amazingly quick. I have a lovely granite pestle and mortar and it takes hardly any time at all to throw a few pine nuts in (I no longer roast them after seeing Jamie Oliver on TV explaining why he doesn’t), grind them a bit, add in leaves of fresh basil (I always have a basil plant on a kitchen windowsill), add in some olive oil as I go and finally grate in some Parmesan. Traditionally, garlic is added too but I don’t always do that.

For a more detailed recipe, click here for an earlier post. Also, for a pesto made with fresh mint rather than basil, click here; for a hazelnut version, rather than pine nuts, click here.

This post began in thought a couple of weeks ago when I spied some Trofie pasta in Waitrose and remembered the gorgeous dish I’d made some time ago of Trofie with Pesto, Green Beans and Potato. 

The addition of potato seemed a bit strange at first but I discovered it was a classic Italian dish – and it was certainly delicious. So it was made again – but unusually I made just the right amount for one serving! However, I thought about ways to use any left over pesto and this post came about. Homemade pesto is so delicious that it’s worth making extra and it will keep in the fridge for a few days. When I was in Genoa five years ago, spoonfuls were put on top of glorious minestrone soups and other dishes. Genoa is the capital of the region of Liguria where pesto comes from. I’d never before had pesto as good as I had on that trip.

Liguria is a small corner of Italy, close to the French border, that lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains ranges of the Alps and Apennines. It’s a steep land with terraces rising above the sea in the south where olive trees grow. The extra virgin olive oil of Liguria is pale yellow in colour and much milder than the fruity, dark green oil of nearby Tuscany. This is one of the things that makes the pesto here so special.

Recently discovered documents reveal that pesto was made as far back as the beginning of the 17th century. And there is even a story of a woman being roused from the dead by a spoonful of pesto in the 18th century. Of course, this apocryphal story will only make us laugh today but there’s no doubt that there’s something special and uplifting about a good, freshly made pesto.

We tend to usually think of pesto being made traditionally with basil but in fact other herbs were often used, depending on the season. However, Pesto Genovese must always be made with basil.

I made the pesto on the first evening of three for this post, for the trofie dish – again! Having gone back to it two weeks ago and being reminded how good it is, I was keen to make it again (click here for recipe).

Last night I cooked a simple dish of salmon fillet, roasted new potatoes and spinach (dressed with olive oil and lemon juice). I spooned some of the pesto over the salmon once it was cooked. I’d seen recipes putting it on before cooking the fish, but I thought I’d prefer it fresh and ‘raw’. It was very good and makes a great accompaniment to fish (see also my recipe for pesto with sea bream – click here).

Tonight I made a frittata. I often make them and you can put in all kinds of ingredients that might be to hand or in your fridge. See this one with sweet potato and spinach (click here), and one with potatoes, courgettes and Parmesan (click here). As long as you have some eggs, you can make a frittata. A few years ago when my son was living here briefly with his wife and first son between house moves, I used to make a large one for the evening meal, using about 9 eggs and a large frying pan. We just cut the frittata into slices and served it with salad and bread and it made a great mid-week supper.

Tonight I had spinach left over from yesterday’s supper, which I cooked ahead of putting the frittata together. I sliced four little new potatoes thickly and boiled in salted water until tender. I finely sliced a shallot and cut a few cherry tomatoes in half. I beat three eggs with a dash of milk and seasoning. I was ready to go.

I softened the shallot in a little olive oil, added the potato slices to brown just slightly. I put the halved tomatoes in the pan and then added the cooked spinach. I flattened it all a little with a spatula and then poured in the beaten eggs. I cooked it over a medium heat, lifting the edges of the egg and tipping the pan slightly to let egg run under to the bottom as it all cooked. Meanwhile, I was heating the grill.

When the frittata was cooked on the bottom and browning a little, but still quite runny on top, I grated over a little Parmesan and then placed the pan under the hot grill to cook the top.

Watch it all carefully and once the frittata is nicely browned around the edge, turn it out onto a plate. Then I spooned over the rest of my pesto.

And there you have a wonderful and simple supper!

It was a gorgeous frittata, very delicious and the pesto added a fabulous ‘extra’ that I liked a lot. Of course the frittata would be great without the pesto but the addition really made a big and exciting difference.

I hope this post will inspire you to make your own pesto if you don’t already do so. Of course it can be enjoyed in a lot more ways than I’ve talked about here, from simply adding some to plain pasta, drizzling over roasted vegetables, a topping for bruschetta … Let me know your favourite way to enjoy pesto!

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

10 thoughts on “Three Ways to Enjoy Pesto

  1. I rarely eat anything with pesto on menus unless I know it’s home made. As you say, it’s very easy and a different taste altogether from commercial brands. We sometimes put a spoonful on grilled salmon in the summer.

  2. I love pesto too! I confess to using a food processor on occasion but prefer to make it with a pestle and mortar. It does take some time and care so I like to make lots of it and keep some in the freezer for future use. Just a thought Kay – in 2018 I had the good fortune to spend some time with Victor Hazan, widower of Marcella, and when our talk veered towards pesto he mentioned that Marcella learned (sorry, I can’t exactly remember from whom) from someone in Genoa that it was a good idea to add some butter to the pesto! I recently discovered that, yes, indeed, in 1910 one Amarico Romano Calvetti, a ‘gastronomo’ from Genoa did include butter in the recipe he wrote. So now, if using pesto for pasta, I add some butter to the cooked pasta first and then add the pesto. It works. I noticed that you did not include pecorino in your recipe – is that because it is perhaps hard to find in the UK? I go easy on the garlic but love it too much not to include it. Isn’t it amazing how just 7 ingredients can make something so distinguishingly tasty!

    1. Interesting to hear about the butter. And wonderful you met Victor Hazan. I do mention not adding the usual garlic last time but the link I give to the more precise recipe in an earlier post does include garlic, when I also say pecorino is used. But for me to just make up a little pesto, I always have Parmesan so it’s easier. I love the whole experience of using the mortar and pestle – I find it relaxing.

  3. Last week I picked a lot of wild garlic in the countryside around Udine and made a little jar of pesto with it, we like it on linguine or trofie!

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