One of my favorite things to make is basil pesto. Toasting the nuts and blending together the garlic and basil makes the whole house smell heavenly and like you have been slaving away when really the process is pretty quick and painless. Also, pesto is so versatile. I love to use it as a quick pasta sauce, on a chicken pizza or with a spoonful of ricotta on bruschetta. Luck would have it that my moms house seems to be overrun with basil this year. She jokes that the only thing she can grow is basil and I definitely wouldn’t argue with that. So last week the girls and I ran over to her house and harvested what I thought was a ton, though we didn’t make much of a dent. We came home, rinsed it, trimmed it and set off on making our pesto. Recently, I have been trying to streamline dinner and make it as easy as possible. Since Noli is quite literally into EVERYTHING, the quicker the dinner prep the better. Knowing that pesto keeps in the fridge for about a week and that I absolutely love it, I figured I would try to make a big batch on a Monday and then use it in as many recipes as I could over a week’s time. I tried to find recipes that weren’t just carb loaded and that added some variety to our dinners. We also didn’t eat the four recipes in a row, I spread them out over our week. I can safely say that the experiment was a success and that I will definitely be doing a week of pesto often around this house.
My Favorite Pesto Recipe
1 cup extra -virgin olive oil
8 heaping TBS walnut pieces (or pine nuts), toasted
9 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups basil leaves, tightly packed
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups FINELY grated Parmesan cheese
- Toast the walnuts by placing them on a pan and in the oven at 350° for 8-10 minutes, tossing in the pan halfway through. The walnuts will appear a few shades darker and will smell amazing.
- Place the toasted walnuts in a food processor with the olive oil and garlic. Process until smooth. Add the basil, salt and pepper and process until smooth, once again.
- Pour into a small bowl and add the grated Parmesan, folding them together.
- Set aside.
Night 1: Lemony Pesto Chicken Soup
I found this soup on Martha Stewart and although it sounded a little weird to me, it also sounded so fresh and delicious so I tried it out. I have made it a few times so far and have found it to be one of our favorite soups now. It is so easy, delicate and homey while also feeling special, the perfect transition from winter to spring.
6 cups Chicken Stock
½ Cup Orzo
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
¼ cup basil pesto
Grated parmesan, ribbons of baby spinach, ribbons of fresh basil
- Bring stock to a simmer in a large pot. Add orzo and cook one minute less than package instructions. Add shredded chicken and heat through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice (the more the better). Divide among bowls and add 1 tablespoon of pesto to each bowl. Serve with lemon wedges, grated parmesan and spinach in the bowl. Add fresh basil if desired.
Night 2: Shrimp and Asparagus Penne with Lemony Pesto
This dish originally called for gnocchi instead of the penne but I didn’t have any around the house so I went with a quicker version with the penne. I think either way would be great because really the pesto provides most of the flavor anyway.
1 lb penne
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup basil pesto
½ teaspoon lemon zest (or more depending how lemony you like it)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I added more because I like it lemony)
- Cook the penne in salted water and once cooked drain into colander while reserving the pasta water. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pasta if you have one. Cook the asparagus in the pasta water until it is tender, about 4-5 minutes. Drain and put in a large bowl with the penne
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add shrimp, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook shrimp until the are opaque and transfer them to the same bowl with the penne and asparagus.
- Toss the pasta mixture with lemon juice and pesto and then sprinkle with the zest. You can sort of eye how much pesto you want on the pasta and taste test to see that it is well coated.
Night 3: Pesto Salmon and Orzo
This is so easy, quick and seriously yummy. I love salmon and I love pesto but the combo wasn’t something that I had thought about until recently. They actually go together so well and make me really happy. I usually serve this with some sautéed zucchini and crusty bread.
Salmon (enough for whomever you are serving)
3 TBS olive oil
Salt/ pepper/ garlic powder
Juice of 2 lemons
¾ cup basil pesto (more or less, depending on how much of everything you make)
½ pound orzo
- Prepare the salmon by drizzling olive oil over the top of it and then sprinkling on some salt, pepper and garlic powder pretty generously. Then squeeze the juice of ½ of a lemon over the top of each filet. I love lemon so I really put quite a bit of lemon juice on the top of the fish but if you like less, then just a drizzle will still do the trick.
- Barbeque the fish or wrap in foil and place in the oven until it is flakey about 45 minutes (or longer depending on the size of the fish). If you are barbequing, you want the heat of the barbeque to be quite hot so heat it on the highest setting. Place the fish flesh-side down to start and cook for about 7 minutes before flipping onto the skin side. Let it cook on the skin side until it is flakey. About 15 minutes.
- While the fish is cooking, cook the orzo according to the package and then drain. Toss the orzo with a few TBS of the basil pesto, more or less depending on how coated you want it.
- Finally, place a piece of salmon on top of a bed of orzo with a spoonful of pesto on top of the fish. So yummy!
Night 4: Spaghetti and Bruschetta
The last night of our week of pesto, I made a very simple spaghetti and some bruschetta. For the spaghetti, you can use your favorite, tried and true recipe but what I do is sautee some fresh diced tomatoes in olive oil with minced garlic. Then I add in a bit of canned tomato sauce to sauce it up a bit and some fresh cut basil, salt and pepper, let it simmer for a few minutes and toss it with my pasta. If I’m feeling adventurous I add in a few red pepper flakes and some wine while it is simmering. It turns out really light and fresh, just how I like it, and perfectly pairs with the much richer bruschetta.
Ingredients for the Bruschetta
2 cups ricotta
2 TBS olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes sliced in half
3 TBS balsamic vinegar (optional)
- Cut up your baguette so that each piece is about ½ inch. Brush olive oil onto one side of the bread and place on a baking sheet. Place under broiler until light brown and crusty.
- In a frying pan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook just until heated through. This should only take a minute or so. You want them to soften but not get to the point where the skins are falling off. Remove from heat.
- Assemble the bruschetta by placing 1 TBS of ricotto on each baguette piece, followed by 1 TBS of pesto and few of the sautéed tomatoes. Drizzle with just a touch of balsamic vinegar of desired.