Delicious in sandwiches, pastas, or even as a spread, pesto is the perfect summer sauce.
Classic pesto alla genovese is well-known and appreciated by many, but today, Chef Jonathan Benno of Leonelli NYC shares his favorite spins on the nutty, garlicy fave. All five recipes start with a Genovese pesto basil base, and the experimentation comes in "what other flavors best compliment the fresh, aromatic quality of the base."
Walnuts and pumpkin seeds are nice alternatives to the typical pine nuts and even add a bit more texture. Both nuts require toasting before incorporating into the mix. This ensures the nutty flavors open up and mix nicely with the olive oil and basil.
Benno's ramp pesto takes advantage of in-season greens for an added punch.
"When ramps are in season," he says, "we love to utilize them for their garlic and onion pungency."
His broccoli rabe take is a sure-fire hit. After blanching both the broccoli rabe and spinach, the greens are added into the pesto and olive oil mix. The result? An subtle bitterness that cut through the sweetness of the basil.
"All of these pestos are perfect for dressing salads, topping fresh focaccia, served with grilled meats or fish in the summertime, or even as simple condiments on your favorite burger or sandwich," he says. "The ramp pesto goes really nicely in a minestrone soup, kind of like a pistou. The Genovese pesto is great on a Turkey sandwich."
While all variations can be made in blender, Benno highly suggests all first-time pesto-makers invest in a quality mortar and pestle.
"It's the best way to really get all of the flavors out of the ingredients," he says, but most importantly, he wants cooks to enjoy the process.
“Have fun," he says. "Making pesto is a summer treat. No one should take it too seriously.”
- 2 Garlic Cloves
- 1/4 cup Toasted Almonds
- 3 tablespoon Ground Pecorino Romano
- 2 cups of Ramps about 24 each
- 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Then add a good amount of salt to the boiling water.
- Plunge the ramp leaves into the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and quickly cool them down in the ice water. Squeeze dry with paper towels.
- Pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle, it will taste different if you use a food processor.
- To start, add the toasted pine nuts and garlic and crush them. Crush them by “pounding” the ingredients in the mortar and pestle.
- Now, start adding the olive oil, if using for pasta sauce you might want to add more oil and less oil if used as a dip.
- When it's a nice rough paste, taste it and add salt if you need to; sometimes the cheese makes the pesto salty enough by itself.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper and if feeling spicy add some crushed red pepper flakes.
- 1/2 lb Basil Leaves
- 1/4 lb Spinach
- 1/4 cup Toasted Peanuts
- 1/4 Cup Roasted Garlic Puree
- 12 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/4 cup Ground Parmesan
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- Blanch spinach and basil in rolling salted water till completely tender, submerge in iced water for 1 minute then remove from water and ring out between a sports towel.
- Transfer all ingredients to a vita prep blender and process till smooth consistency is reached, making sure to monitor temperature of the pure
Roasted Garlic Puree
- Cut the whole garlic with skins still on in half.
- Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and salt.
- Wrap all the bulbs in tin foil and roast in a 350F oven until golden brown and soft.
- When cool, squeeze the roasted garlic out of its skin.
- Puree in food processor until smooth
BROCCOLI RABE PESTO
- 1/2 lb Broccoli Rabe
- 4 cups Baby Spinach
- 1 cup Walnut Halves and Pieces
- 1/2 cup Roasted Garlic Puree
- 2/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/2 Walnut Oil
- 1/3 teaspoon Calabrian Chili Flakes (or any chili flakes)
- 1/3 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- Pre-heat your oven to 350F and get a large 6 qt pot and fill with cold water, bring to a boil then add salt.
- Blanch the broccoli rabe and spinach, together in boiling and salted water for about 3-4 minutes. Blanch the greens in batches so the boiling water does not drop in temperature. Make sure to have a large bowl of ice water to shock the greens when they come out of the boiling water.
- Drain all the greens from the ice water and gently squeeze out all the water.
- Get a sheet tray and place the walnuts on the tray in an even layer. Toast the walnuts in the oven for 5 minutes and then open the oven and give the tray a little shake. You are looking for the walnuts to release their oils and become more fragrant. If that has not happened yet, continue to toast for another 3-4 minutes or until the oils have been released.
- Let the walnuts cool.
- Add all the ingredients into a blender or Cuisinart and blend until desired consistency (or sub for mortar and pestle). Check for seasoning.
- 3 cloves Garlic
- 3 tsps Calabrian Chili Flakes
- 2 small Anchovy Fillets
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Walnut Oil
- 2/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/2 lb Walnut Halves and Pieces
- Salt to taste
- Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Get a sheet tray and place the walnuts on the tray in an even layer.
- Toast the walnuts in the oven for 5 minutes and then open the oven and give the tray a little shake. You are looking for the walnuts to release their oils and become more fragrant. If that has not happened yet, continue to toast for another 3-4 minutes or until the oils have been released.
- Lets the walnuts cool.
- Next, take all the ingredients and add them to a blender or Cuisinart and blend until desired consistency (or sub for mortar and pestle).
- Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste.
PUMPKIN SEED PESTO
- 1/2 lb Pumpkin Seeds
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Villa Manadori Balsamic
- 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon Corn Syrup
- 1 tablespoon Tap Water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Get a sheet tray and place the pumpkin seeds on the tray in an even layer. Toast the pumpkin seeds in the oven for 3-4 minutes and then open the oven and give the tray a little shake. You are looking for the pumpkin seeds to release their oils and become more fragrant. If that has not happened yet, continue to toast for another 1-2 minutes or until the oils have been released.
- Let the pumpkin seeds cool.
- Add all the ingredients to a blender except the tap water. Turn the blender on and slowly drizzle in the water while blending.
- Blend until you reach your desired consistency and taste, if you feel like it is too thick, add more water.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.