pesto problems

Posted by on August 31, 2011 in cook | 9 comments

One of the things I have had to work on in my quest to eat better is planning and cooking. Obviously, I've always enjoyed cooking, but spending a quiet Sunday afternoon preparing dinner is a little different than throwing together something to eat at 8 o'clock on Tuesday night after a long day at work. I thought I would do some posts about some things I do to make it easier for me to eat well and avoid the drive-thru, even after a 12-hour day. Even though most of these recipe posts probably won't have formal recipes, I hope you'll find them useful. One of the things I love about cooking is being creative. I have lots of cookbooks, and read plenty of food blogs, but ultimately, I usually just let those things inspire me, and I prefer to cook without constraints and measuring spoons.

Last week we cleaned out our fridge. I am embarrassed to admit how long it has been since it has had a really thorough scrubbing, so let's just say that we probably should have donned hazmat suits. Sometimes I just make too much of something, and leftovers get put in a jar and eventually end up in the back corner, obscured by a bag of spinach or an enormous storage container full of pot roast. The saddest thing was the jar of pesto that had turned a sickly grey-green. It got me thinking, however. Pesto is such a rich, concentrated sauce, why do most recipes make so much? I also ended up with a bad case of Pine Mouth (who knew? I thought I had a brain tumor, or something) from that batch of pesto, so I kind of lost my enthusiasm for finding uses for it.  

So, I had three problems to solve: first, make a smaller batch of pesto, second, make it without pine nuts, and third, find ways to use it all up. 

The first and second problems were actually easy to fix. I'm pretty sure pesto is one of those things that's hard to mess up, so don't worry too much about exact quantities. I used my stick blender for the batch I made last night, but I think I'm going to try the Italian grandmother version from 101Cookbooks, and chop everything by hand next time. I started out with a good handful of basil leaves, and added a few cashews (I've also used macadamia nuts, and that was delicious too), two cloves of garlic, a little sprinkling of sea salt, and somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of olive oil (I just kept adding until I liked the texture). When I had all that nicely blended together, I used my micro-plane to add some finely-shredded parmesan cheese. It was a pretty hard chunk, so I got tired after grating about 1/4 cup. This I just stirred in with a spoon. I ended up with a nice little batch of pesto, around half a cup, and the pine nuts were not missed at all. Never be afraid to taste and adjust as you cook, and it will work out just fine!

image from flickr.comI started with a simple pesto roast chicken-just slather a whole chicken with pesto, and roast at 375 degrees for 45-60 minutes. You can baste it with additional pesto once or twice to keep things nice and green. I added some steamed carrots and cauliflower to make a meal, and I used them to mop up the pesto from my plate. Delicious!

Now to use it all up! I thought that covering a whole chicken in this delicious, bright green paste would take care of most of it, but there is still plenty left for some other uses. Since I'm not eating grains, the traditional pastas and sandwiches are not going to work, but I've got a list of things to try this week and I am going to do my best to use it all up. Here we go:

  • Stem and clean a portobello mushroom. Place it upside down on a baking sheet and spread with pesto. Crack an egg on top and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the egg is done to your liking (15 minutes or so)
  • Toss a little pesto with steamed vegetables instead of butter
  • Add a couple spoonfuls of pesto to a fritatta or crustless quiche just before baking, and gently swirl it in
  • Make a simple chicken salad with homemade aioli, chopped celery and onion, olives and/or nuts. Use this as a stuffing for a big, ripe, heirloom tomato
  • Top poached eggs with a spoonful of pesto and serve with some good prosciutto
  • Stuffed chicken: pound a breast or thigh flat (about 1/4 inch thick), and place a little pesto, some sun-dried tomatoes, and a little chunk of fresh mozzarella in the middle. Roll up and sauté in olive oil until the chicken is done and the cheese is nice and melty

I've done the mushroom before, it was delicious and very rich, and I've also made pesto chicken salad, which was also delicious and rich. I think I may do a quick fritatta for breakfast tomorrow, and last night's carrots and cauliflower were so good with the little bit of pesto drippings from my chicken that I think I want to cook up a bunch of vegetables for dinner tonight and toss them with a little more generous coating of pesto. What do you do with pesto (that doesn't involve pasta!)?  


  1. Hey girl ! I just made some pesto, and used walnuts. Pine mouth? Are you serious? What in the world is that? Glen’s loving the pesto on his sandwiches, I’ve just been drizzling a little over my veggies, and a spoon full in my summer veggie soup is divine! Just sitting here hunkered down with a quarter of a watermelon – rock on clean eating!

  2. It was the weirdest thing, every time I ate or drank anything I had this terrible, bitter taste in the back of my mouth. I really thought something was wrong with me to have my sense of taste be so altered, so I googled it, and saw all these reference to Pine Mouth. I realized it happened right after I had those pine nuts. Apparently, it is a random reaction, but might be related to certain strains of pine nuts, particularly those from China. Mine weren't from there, and I might not always have the same reaction, but I don't want to take a chance. It took almost two week for that taste to go away completely! 
    Pesto in soup sounds like a great idea! I can't wait for my vegetables tonight 🙂 

  3. Thanks for the warning about the pine nuts. Good to be aware. Glad you are over it. Walnuts may be a good alternative. I’ve seen them listed in recipes as an alternative too. I enjoy your blog. Trying to feed my body what really nourishes it.
    Greetings from Austin!

  4. Hi Marné, I’ve had good luck storing pesto longer by adding a thin layer of olive oil on top. Love all of your suggestions for using it, especially the mushroom and egg dish! Thanks so much for sharing this on ChowStalker!

  5. Thanks for visiting! 
    Walnuts are a good suggestion, I should have mentioned that my husband is allergic to them, so I avoid them, but they are definitely a good option for others! 🙂 

  6. Good idea about the olive oil! I will have to remember that. I don't think that would have been enough to save that last batch, I'm embarrassed to say how long it languished in my fridge before I found it again. I also want to try freezing some in ice cube trays, that would save a lot of time, especially in the Winter, when fresh basil is not so plentiful.
    I'm glad you were able to include my photo on Chowstalker, it's such a great resource! I will be submitting more photos & recipes for sure!

  7. I make lots of pesto and just freeze it in little containers. It freezes perfectly and my, how welcome it is in January!
    We tend to like it best spread on crackers! And I personally like it best that way when I’ve added sundried tomatoes to my regular recipe (and yes, like you, I just wing it, using the food processor). Somehow the little added sweetness cuts the garlic and basil just right for me.
    I also like to use mint in place of some of the basil, and pistachios if I run out of pine nuts.

  8. Amen on freezing pesto. In fact, last year I had a bunch of basil and simply put it in the food processor with olive oil, then froze it. Rather than making it all into pesto, I had a pesto base ready at any time, just added the Parmesan, nuts (I like it with pecans) and other ingredients (various herb combinations, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, etc.) as we needed it.

  9. Okay, you all have convinced me, I will try freezing some. We only have a refrigerator/freezer so freezer space is limited. I guess a few little baggies of pesto won't take up all that much room though 🙂 I love pecans, so I'm going to try those next time!
    Also, yes, get yourself some succulents! They seem to be thriving on my neglect. 

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