Ketchup might seem like the sauce of summer due to all the hot dogs and hamburgers we tend to eat during the season, but our favorite sauce of the season has got to be pesto. It originated in the northern city of Genoa, Italy, and the word itself means “pounded” or “crushed.” Authentic preparation methods call for grinding loads of fresh basil leaves with a pestle and mortar – believed to preserve the bright flavor of the basil – along with garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and extra-virgin olive oil. The bright green paste is best known as a sauce for pasta, but we use it to flavor everything from salads to soups, as a sauce on pizza, stirred into mayonnaise and spread on sandwiches, and drizzled over grilled vegetables. There’s something magical about the sweet, pungent taste of the classic Italian sauce and the summer-y flavor it adds to everything it touches.
If your garden has a basil plant or two, you’re probably trying to figure out how to use all of it right now. How about making pesto? Stored in the freezer, you’ll be able to enjoy its distinct summer flavor when you need a little sunshine in the middle of winter. Don’t worry, a mortar and pestle aren’t required; you can make perfectly delicious pesto in a food processor or blender. Simply buzz garlic cloves in a food processor to mince, add the basil, pine nuts and cheese, and process again until minced. Finally, with the machine running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until blended — sometimes, we replace all or some of the olive oil with Swanson® Chicken broth – the flavor is lighter and the distinct taste of the basil stays in the forefront. Store the pesto in small plastic freezer containers or divide it among the wells of an ice cube tray and freeze.
Once you’ve mastered basil pesto, you can use its basic formula as a blueprint for creating other flavors – or, with a few minor adjustments, make chimichurri, a tangy, garlicky condiment that’s always on South American tables. Essentially any tender-stemmed herb will work: try cilantro, sage, arugula, mint or parsley (woody-stemmed herbs like rosemary don’t blend as smoothly). The nuts can be swapped out too – walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews or almonds add intriguing flavor dimensions. Or branch out completely and try making pesto with sun-dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers. We’re willing to bet you’ll find all kinds of delicious ways to use it.