Over the years chefs and foodies alike have experimented with pesto adaptations and come to ﬁnd out, the possibilities are endless!
In thinking about this pesto post I wanted to go back to the beginning and get a ﬂavor for its origins. As I searched for some historical information on pesto I stumbled upon a beautiful article written by Corby Kummer, a friend of Oldways. Lo and behold he, in fact, was educated about pesto on a trip with Oldways!
Apparently the concept of pesto has been around for thousands of years. The word pesto originates from the word pestle which means to pound or grind. Ancient Romans would grind together cheese, herbs, and garlic, which they called moretum, but pesto itself became popular in Northern Italy. The ﬁrst known recipe for pesto appeared in a book called La Cuciniera Genovese, written in 1863.
I also searched our website to assess our own portfolio of pesto recipes and found a nice variety in our archives. Beyond what we think of as a traditional basil pesto, we have some great ideas for switching up the greens: how about using arugula, cilantro or even garlic scapes!
The walnut was often the nut of choice for pesto making, fresh picked from trees in Liguria, Italy. (Not just pine nuts – which is often what we think.) Today’s cooks are open to using many varieties of nuts, from Brazil nuts and almonds to peanuts and pistachios. Each adds a unique ﬂavor to pesto. And, for those with nut allergies, there are many pesto recipes that forgo nuts; for instance you can make pesto with pumpkin seeds!
Recently Oldways had the special opportunity to travel to Pantelleria, a tiny Italian island that is actually closer to Africa than it is to Italy. Beyond capers, which we ate at almost every meal, we were introduced to two wonderful pesto variations. Pesto alla Trapenese, was demonstrated by a visiting chef from Trapani, Italy and combined fresh tomatoes with almonds, basil and garlic. Another recipe, from the island itself, called Pantelleria Pesto, is tomato based and has no nuts. (A recipe for Pesto alla Trapenese is included below. Yum!)
The bottom line is that you’ll gain a new appreciation for pesto if you don’t get stuck thinking you have to conform to one recipe or one preparation. Experiment with ingredients AND when using pesto, think beyond pasta. Pesto is fabulous as a marinade for chicken, tossed with grilled vegetables, as a base for pizza instead of red sauce, or as a spread for sandwiches. The pesto possibilities are endless!
Pesto alla Trapenese
*True pesto aﬁcionados say you must always prepare pesto with a mortar and pestle. If you do not have a mortar and pestle you can prepare in a food processor.
3-4 cloves garlic
⅓ cup unsalted almonds
1 bunch fresh basil
Salt to taste
½ cup olive oil
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
Pepper to taste
freshly grated pecorino cheese
In a mortar and pestle combine the garlic, almonds, basil and salt. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and grind until well blended.
Once the mixture is smooth add the tomatoes, being careful not to squirt the juices. Mix until the tomatoes are incorporated into the pesto.
Slowly add the remaining olive oil as you continuously mix so the oil is well combined. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
Finish with freshly grated pecorino and whole basil leaves for garnish.