Perfect Pesto, No Basil Required
Show those greens who's boss
This is the first year of my adult life that I have had a small parcel of outdoor space. Being someone who doesn’t know a damn thing about plants, I decided to load up my planters with herbs, figuring I would use them up long before I could kill them via gross neglect. Imagine my surprise upon finding out that’s it's shockingly hard to kill herbs. I’ll forget they even exist for weeks at a time, then I go out into the yard and come face to face with a four-foot basil plant. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with all this basil. No one really ever needs to use more than two or three leaves at a time for any dish, so I’m assuming pesto was invented to keep the basil population at bay and prevent it from engulfing small Italian villages.
Most pesto you’ve ever tried has likely been made of basil because, property damage aside, it’s a nice soft leaf that’s easy to pulverize in a mortar and pestle or, in modern times, a food processor. But this doesn’t mean you need to be married to it. You can make pesto out of any leafy herb that’s gotten out of control in your life. Parsley, cilantro, chervil—all good! Truthfully, any tender green that’s delicious raw, such as baby spinach or arugula, works well, and they're all pretty great in an omelet or drizzled over your favorite egg dish, sandwich, or toast.
What happens, though, if you’re jonesing for some pesto making and all you have are a ton of greens that aren’t tender and taste like shoe polish when eaten raw? You can still make pesto out of them, though you’re going to take a few extra steps. Grab any recipe to get a general idea of proportions; measurements are pointless for pesto, and everything should be done by taste/eye.
Part One: Greens
If you’re using a green that is either extremely fibrous our utterly disgusting raw, you’d going to need to cook it first. We’re not talking a slight blanching, either, we’re talking boiling to death like they did back in the '50s when no one knew how to cook anything that didn’t come in a can. We need those greens to be tender AF.
First bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wash your greens and remove the tough center ribs, also pulling out any long obvious strings that you come across. Chop them very roughly and add to the pot, pushing them down with a big spoon to submerge fully. Partially cover and lower heat to medium, and cook for about ten minutes or so til they’re soft. Scoop them out into a colander to drain, pressing with your hands or the back of a spoon to extract any extra water.
If you’re using tender greens you’re cool.
Throw the greens in the food processor and pulse them a few times until they’re chopped finely.
Part Two: Aromatic
Garlic is the usual go-to here, because it’s amazing and I don’t know why you’d want to tamper with perfection. But if you want to be a nonconformist, you can try a shallot.
Part Three: Cheese
Any nice, extra-hard grating cheese with do: Parmesan, cotija, manchego, mimolette, etc. If you’re lactose intolerant, don’t worry. There’s low or no lactose in hard cheese, since it’s converted into lactase during aging. If you’re vegan, you can make up the cheese portion with anything extra salty, like olives or capers. Toss them in, blitz some more.
Part Four: Nuts
Nuts are always better toasted, so do that. Then add them bit by bit, pulsing as you go. If you’re allergic to nuts or don't like them, don’t use them.
Part Five: Olive Oil
Before we get to adding the oil, scrape down the sides of the food processor, then let it run for a bit until everything is looking well combined. Once you’re there, slowly stream in olive oil while pulsing until you get the consistency you want. Add a nice pinch of salt, pulse again, then taste. Adjust as you see fit for your perfect pesto.