Pesto has had a long time in the spotlight but manages to stay relevant because of its inherent flexibility – it can constantly reinvent itself.
Which brings us to winter greens. Swapping basil for leafy greens in pesto is really delicious and is great for a number of reasons: It’s a quick way to get plenty of hidden greens into your diet; they’re bulkier than basil and thus provide larger yields that are easier and affordable (and can be frozen); and it’s an easy way to add variety and brightness to your cool-weather cooking.
Here are the basic pesto proportions for using greens:
Nuts: Pine nuts are delicious, but essentially cost the same price as gold. Hemp seeds and almonds are both great swap nuts for pine nuts. I’ve had delicious luck with cashews, walnuts and even pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Cheese: The times I’ve omitted the Parmesan have all been delicious. The times I’ve swapped Parmesan with another aged hard cheese were fun. (Though be careful with softer cheeses as they can become creamy and drown the other flavours.) For vegans who like the suggestion of cheese, a dash of nutritional yeast gives pesto the same kind of depth and balance that cheese provides. Mmmmm!
Greens: Experiment with any greens you have or like to use; try kale, chard, and collards. Even broccoli is great. Granted, some may be more adventurous than others. (I confess my pesto with beet greens was good and interesting, but the grass-meets-dirt flavour was best in small doses.) The lemon juice helps brighten the earthier and/or bitter flavour of stronger greens; more assertive greens may respond well to a quick blanching in boiling water first.
The pepper factor: I also always add some roasted Jalapeno to pesto, it gives it a smoky bang that makes it perfectly complete. (You can roast one on the open flame of a stovetop, wipe off the charred skin and then taste to know how much to use since they all vary in heat. And then wash your hands very thoroughly.)
• 1/2 cup chopped nuts
• 3 cups kale or other winter greens
• 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 teaspoons lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon salt
• Roasted Jalapeno pepper, to taste (optional)
If you have a food processor please use it, if not use a mortar and pestle. Add everything to the bowl of the machine and puree until smooth; add more oil for consistency and season to taste with salt.
Pesto can be used right away or kept in the fridge for three days. Alternatively, you can freeze it for up to three months.