Kitchen Tip: Make Pesto from Wilting Greens (Basil Arugula Pesto Recipe)

Do you ever find yourself with herbs or leafy greens that are about to go? Here is an easy (and delicious) way to use up the leftovers before they die.

Turn them into pesto!

Classic pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, and a bit of Parmesan cheese. It's delicious, but the truth is that I rarely make it that way. Pesto is actually more of a technique than an actual recipe; it's the act of crushing together a variety of herbs and aromatics. The word pesto comes from the word "pestare," which means to pound or to crush.

The old fashioned way is to do this by hand, but I use my food processor. Because there is no need to complicate things.

You can use whatever you have on hand to make a great pesto. I typically like to combine an herb (like basil or parsley or cilantro or mint) + a leafy green (like arugula or kale or spinach) + a nut or seed (like almonds or pine nuts or pumpkin seeds or walnuts) + garlic (pretty much the only essential part) + grated hard cheese (like Parmesan or aged Gouda or manchego). You can add spices like toasted cumin seeds or red chile flakes, if you'd like. A little oil and water help loosen things up a bit. A sprinkle of lemon juice keeps the green greener longer. (Say that 5 times fast!)

You can really play around with the technique to create different flavor profiles. For example:

Mint + cumin + walnuts = Mediterranean flavor

cilantro + chile flakes + pumpkin seeds = Mexican/Latin flavors

The pesto you see here is made from basil, arugula, and almonds. It's fragrant and a bit peppery from the arugula. Tossed with pasta, it made for a perfect "cleaning out the fridge" kind of dinner. Eugene also ate a few scoops of the pesto with fresh mozzarella for a snack this weekend, and I used a bit of it on steak.

You can also use it as a filling for my easy homemade pesto ravioli! And here is a great way to freeze pesto for quick meals all year.

The recipe for my basil arugula pesto is below, but remember to just use it as a guideline and substitute in whatever you have on hand.

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Basil Arugula Pesto Recipe

1/3 cup unsalted almonds (use any kind--roasted, blanched, sliced--it all works!)
2 medium cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup basil leaves, rinsed, picked and dried
1 1/2 cups baby arugula
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a food processor, combine the almonds, garlic, and salt, and pulse a few times until coursely ground. Add the basil and arugula, and pulse again a few times until coursely chopped and evenly distributed. Add the cheese, then slowly pour in olive oil and lemon juice, as needed, to loosen the mix until it is creamy. Add a splash or two of water if you need additional liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Store in a sealed jar or container in the fridge. Can also be frozen.
To Use: Cook pasta according to package directions. After draining, add several large spoonfuls of pesto to pasta and toss to coat, adding a bit of pasta water if necessary to make into a sauce. Add as much pesto as you'd like (I love a good thick coating).

Variation: You can also splash in a bit of heavy cream for a pesto cream sauce. 

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