Summer, we’re going to be sad to see you end. But when life hands you colder weather and summer produce starts to become scarce, make pesto!
You can make pesto with almost anything. If you have any herbs, lettuces or greens that aren’t ripe enough to serve in a salad, breathe a second life into them by using them as a key ingredient for pesto. We chatted with Summer House Santa Monica and Stella Barra Pizzeria chef/ partner Jeff Mahin who gave us some creative riffs on traditional pestos and ideas of what to do with summer greens as they begin to go out of season.
“It’s all about balance of flavors of peppery notes of the greens, acidity from a lemon and fat from cheese and nuts; balance of nutty, acidic, peppery and herbal and voila!”
“Don’t be afraid to think outside of the basil box and use different herbs like parsley and cilantro. A great Mexican-inspired pesto could include jalapeño, cilantro, lime, cashew or raw almond.”
Chef trick: Peal the jalapeño with an apple peeler and de-seed it to get the true flavor of the jalapeño without the intense heat.
“Switch it up from your typical parmesan; instead try pecorino or an aged Gouda.”
Chef trick: Get the most out of your hard cheeses and use a microplane to also grate the outer part – the rind. The rind is still packed with flavor.
Chef trick: If you’re opting for a soft cheese like goat cheese or a triple crème, try freezing it and grate with a cheese grater once frozen. Fold into your pesto for lumps of gooey cheese.
“Getting away from traditional pine nuts and using things like almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds and pecans can alter the taste and texture of your pesto.”
Chef trick: Make sure to toast the nuts ahead of time to bring out the nutty flavor.
While you can use a handheld food processor to make pesto, Chef Mahin recommends a pestle and mortar to yield the best texture and flavor.
Now you’ve made your pesto – what do you serve it with?
“Pestos really allow themselves to go with any type of meat – fish, chicken, lamb, steak all welcome a pesto – I like to use cilantro and lime for a fish pesto, more mint and parsley for lamb. For chicken add some spice to it with chili flakes or chipotle powder and basil, and for steak I like to the peppery-ness of adding arugula to the basil pesto.”
At Summer House Santa Monica, Chef Mahin serves jalapeño pesto with Roasted Cauliflower.
Chef Mahin serves an arugula pesto with Cauliflower Hummus at Stella Barra and has also just launched a new summer pizza with Avocado and Arugula Pesto Pizza with goat cheese, parmesan, pecorino and chili flakes.
Do try these pesto recipes at home!