A fresh herb pesto livens up the palate and the plate with its vibrant flavour and colours. A traditional pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, cheese and olive oil, but because you can use such a wide range of leafy greens or aromatic herbs and nuts of your choice, pesto can be a showcase for your imagination or for whatever is in season – such as wild garlic leaves in the spring. Try using rocket instead of basil, or almonds (with the skins on) instead of pine nuts. Pistachios or walnuts -a vital source of selenium – also make great pesto.
Home-made pesto is easy to make even if you are in a hurry and far superior to most shop-bought versions (with British supermarkets selling some pesto sauces with more added salt than seawater!) By the time your pasta or gnocchi is cooked, you can easily have put together a fresh, tasty pesto to eat with it. Make extra and store some in the fridge or freezer for later.
The word pesto is derived from the Italian pestare meaning to pound or crush, and purists will insist on using a pestle and mortar to crush the ingredients carefully. There is some justification for this as basil is a delicate herb and can lose its aroma and colour if it’s treated too roughly. As well as this, using a pestle and mortar can be satisfying as you slowly grind its contents into a coarse paste. But I find that a perfectly good pesto can be made (and in much less time) by pulsing the ingredients gently in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped.
There are many uses for pesto beyond the typical sauce for pasta. I like to spoon it on to roasted white fish, add it to a plate of roasted vegetables or swirl it into soups where it brings taste, colour and texture. Let your creativity flow and enjoy new versions of a timeless Italian classic this summer!
Nuts provide many valuable nutrients including healthy fats and
protein. They are a good source of dietary fibre and B group vitamins
(including folate), vitamin E and minerals including calcium, iron,
zinc, potassium and magnesium, antioxidant minerals (selenium,
manganese and copper) and phytochemicals such as antioxidant
compounds. A study published in 2018 suggested that grazing on nuts
may boost men’s fertility, and a daily snack of almonds, hazelnuts and
walnuts increased the number and quality of sperm.
Each nut contains its own unique combination of nutrients. Experiment
with herb and nut pestos and try these suggestions to replace the
traditional basil and pine nut:
Brazil nuts: rich in selenium which helps prevent cellular damage from
Almonds: leave the skin on as the flavonoids in the skins work
synergistically with the vitamin E to more than double their
antioxidant power. Almonds support the growth of beneficial gut
Pecans: the most polyphenol-rich nut which are compounds that act as
antioxidants to protect against damage from free radicals
Cashew: provides energy-boosting copper and bone-strengthening magnesium
Pistachios: just one ounce of pistachios contains almost a quarter of your recommended daily value of nervous system boosting vitamin B6
Walnuts: source of alpha linolenic acid, the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid and there is evidence suggesting they may have beneficial effects on the brain
Good choices include basil, dill, coriander, wild garlic, rocket, chives, mint and parsley*
See Fertile for pesto recipes including nettle pesto, chestnut pesto and walnut and beetroot pesto
Large doses of parsley may stimulate the uterus and large doses should be avoided during pregnancy. A little parsley – culinary amounts – are fine however.