Much like a well-made sauce or vinaigrette, a pesto can elevate even the simplest dish to a new level. In her new cookbook Pesto: The Modern Mother Sauce (May 2019), Leslie Lennox, author and owner of the artisan pesto company, Hope's Garden Pesto, takes you through the sensory delights of this aromatic little green sauce (and sometimes not green) - from modern variations to international flavors.
One of the best things about pesto is you can gather ingredients from your own garden (spinach, kale, arugula, mint, etc), it reduces food waste (use those flavorful herb stems and carrot tops!), its flavor combinations are virtually endless, and it can be whipped up in minutes. Lennox encourages her readers to "approach pesto- making with an open mind and a willingness to experiment" and suggests numerous options—some unconventional—for pesto ingredients. "Pesto made from carrot tops, seaweed, or artichoke? Why not!" she says. To her, there are six components to a pesto that can be mixed and matched as you see fit. The main components are plants, nuts/ seeds, cheese, garlic, seasoning/acid, and oil, and if you mix these ingredients in the appropriate ratio (4 cups plants, 1/2 cup each of cheese, oil, nuts/seeds, some garlic, and 1/4 tsp seasoning/acid), then you've got a perfect pesto!
Lennox starts with an extensive list of plants to use in a pesto (including some surprising ones like cabbage, squash, and zucchini. Again, why not?!), as well as various cheeses and cheese substitutes, oils, nuts and seeds, seasonings and acids, as well as using garlic (skip it, roast it, leave it raw).
She starts with a section on Basic Pesto Recipes, which includes a handy guide to global flavor profiles. Try an Indian pesto with cardamom, chiles, cloves, cumin, curry powder, garam masala, garlic, ginger, onions, tomatoes, turmeric, or a Middle Eastern one with cinnamon, garlic, ginger, onions, raisins, saffron, scallions, tomatoes, and turmeric. Chapters in Pesto include Eggs and Toasts, Pasta and Pizza, Sandwiches, Paninis, Bruschetta, and Crostini, Appetizers and Small Bites, Soups, Vegetables, Poultry, Seafood, and Beef, Pork, and Lamb.
Below is a recipe courtesy of the author for Pesto Ramen Bowls that are loaded with good-for-you veggies. As with many of Lennox's recipes, she simply calls for "pesto," but any pesto, really, for nearly any recipe would be just divine. For these ramen bowls I've included her Classic Basil Pesto recipe, but her Chinese pesto - made with chiles, chives, cilantro, five-spice powder, garlic, ginger, scallions, shallots, and star anise - would be splendid as well.
"A bowl of ramen noodles is one of the quickest and easiest comfort foods you can make. Start with a great broth and the freshest noodles you can find. Don’t be put off by this long list of ingredients. Most of this recipe can be prepared in advance, and your ramen bowl can come together in minutes." ~ Leslie Lennox
4 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 scallion, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
1 (1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 large mushrooms (any variety), thinly sliced
1 bell pepper (any color), seeded and thinly sliced
4 brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
10 ounces ramen noodles
1 carrot, julienned or thinly shaved
1 endive, thinly sliced
2 hardboiled eggs, halved lengthwise
Roasted seaweed sheets, torn, for garnish
4 tablespoons pesto (recipe follows)
In a medium saucepan, warm the broth over medium heat. Add the soy sauce, scallion whites, and ginger. Simmer for 10 minutes to deepen the flavor.
Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion caramelizes and turns golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Add the brussels sprouts and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the ramen noodles and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer the noodles to a colander; drain and rinse well.
To assemble, use kitchen tongs to divide the noodles among four large bowls. Ladle the hot broth over the noodles. For visual interest, add small amounts of the onion, mushrooms, bell pepper, brussels sprouts, carrot, endive, and egg halves in a circular pattern. Then, top each bowl with a few pieces of torn seaweed, 1 tablespoon pesto, and the scallion greens for garnish.
Classic Basil Pesto
Makes about 1 cup
Ready in 10 minutes
"There is no substitute for picking the basil fresh off the plant and making pesto within minutes. If you have homegrown basil of your own, I think you’ll feel the same way! But if you don’t have access to a garden, don’t worry. Basil from the grocery store will do just fine." ~ Leslie Lennox
4 cups basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
6 garlic cloves, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse for several seconds, until the mixture turns into a paste. Slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube while pulsing, then pulse for about 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides and pulse once or twice more. If you prefer a smoother, looser consistency, add a little more olive oil and continue pulsing. When the pesto is to your liking, use immediately or transfer it to a jar, top with a thin layer of olive oil, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Recipes and excerpts reprinted with permission from Surrey Books, and Agate Imprint, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.