A Healthy Pesto

My kids love pasta and I try to cook it in many different ways so they will not get bored with it. A simple tomato sauce is always a hit with them, but a pesto is also very popular as well.

A typical Italian recipe for pesto always contains parmesan cheese. But because my husband hates cheese of any kind and is very sensitive to its taste, I always leave it out. Nonetheless, our pesto still tastes awesome without the parm; in fact, you wouldn’t even have noted its absence.

Once I discovered that you can make a decent pesto without a vital ingredient like parmesan cheese, I began to loosen up over not sticking to the traditional pesto formula and started experimenting. Here are some of the things I tried that worked:

  • Switching up the types of nuts – if you are out of pine nuts, try substituting walnuts, almonds or cashews. They work just as well.
  • Varying the herbs – although the traditional basil makes for a super delicious pesto, I have tried it with flat leaf parsley with equally good results. Plus, the pesto stays vibrantly green when made with parsley even if you had made it ahead of time. Also, a few sprigs of mint will freshen up any pesto immeasurably.
  • Trying a combination of oils – instead of only olive oil, try a mixture of olive oil and nut oil such as walnut, or avocado oil.
  • Adding vegetables to the mix – I have added frozen peas (thawed), kale (blanch it first), spinach (blanch it first as well), swiss chard (likewise, blanch it first), arugula, avocado and tomatoes to my pesto and I swear my daughter didn’t even know any better. I usually do not have any difficulty getting her to eat her vegetables, but when they are ground into a pesto, I completely avoid any form of selective picking if a vegetable happens to displease her that day.

Sure, the end result is miles away from the real thing and I don’t think any Italian nonna will approve of what I call pesto. But it tastes delicious (an important factor to justify messing around with the real thing) and is also healthy to boot.

My pesto tonight is made with walnuts, olive oil, a clove of garlic, salt, black pepper, thawed frozen peas and a mount of basil leaves we got from the farmers’ market. I tossed it with rotelle, a fun shape to jazz up our Monday night dinner.

Give some of these ideas a go the next time you make pesto to add a twist to your meal! You will not be disappointed.


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