Cheapo Pesto

Last night, as I was putting together a batch of pesto to a) accommodate a contribution to a potluck and b) rescue a variety of leafy vegetables from my fridge before they grew fur coats and minds of their own, it occurred to me that I’ve never shared my recipe for cheapo pesto before.

I have shame.

I’m going to share the basic recipe with measurements and such, but I tend to think of the process more in “parts”, like if I was to build a cocktail from scratch – I have a good idea of what the flavour profile is going to be going into it, but there’s often tweaking involve to achieve the right balance when introducing new ingredients. It’s a great recipe for experimenting because it’s cheap and almost always comes out deliciously (almost – we shan’t speak of the disastrous rosemary and roasted pepper pesto I once made – it was that vile). There are a couple of notes about that stuff at the end of the post.

What you need:

  • 1 lb spinach (baby or mature is up to you, but each has a very different flavour)
  • 1 bunch parsley leaves (flat-leaf or curly – same as the spinach – they’re very different creatures) – don’t forget to toss the stems in your bouillon bag!
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • Pinch each of nutmeg, salt, and black pepper

What you do:

  1. Toss everything in your food processor and blend on high speed, slowly drizzling the oil in as it goes.
  2. Scrape the bowl down every once in a while, as necessary, and continue blending and scraping until smooth.
  3. Toss in an air-tight container. I will keep for about a week in the fridge. Alternately, spoon it into an ice cube tray for longer storage in the freezer (the cubes can be put in a freezer bag once they’re formed).
  4. Use it as a sauce for pasta or pizza, a condiment in soup, a base for a salad dressing, smear it on toast, toss it with some diced tomatoes for instant bruschetta, add some to your favourite tomato or cream sauce for a flavour punch, and so on. We put that shit on everything.

Cook’s notes: I mention above that I use it for fridge-busting. Last night’s included arugula, baby spinach, parsley and a handful of dried basil from my lovely, basil-growing, neighbour-lady.

A serious mixed bag of stuff that needed some life support. It would have worked without the basil, but I needed a basil thing for a dish I was preparing (that recipe tomorrow). I could have used thyme or rosemary or pretty much any other green herb, the trick is to get the balance right for what you intend to do with it. The spinach just becomes a cheap flavour-carrier, so keep that in mind. Just remember to label your containers well with whatever you put in it, unlike moi:


Many expect there to be nuts and cheeses in pesto and they’re not wrong, I also enjoy that, but when I’m making a batch as a fridge-buster that will probably go into the freezer and with no ready intent for its use, I keep those out for freeze-ability as well as  neutrality. I can always add nuts and/or cheeses to the dish the pesto is used in, but I can’t take those out if I’m feeding someone who is lactose or nut intolerant.

A word about cilantro: Cilantro pesto is a marvelous thing (if you’re a cilantro lover), but it will smell like burning. I discovered this when the baby daddy came home with cilantro instead of parsley for our pesto. Neither of us noticed. I tossed it in the food processor then went into an instant panic thinking our poor, little kitchen robot was going to blow up, but nope. Just the might of cilantro.


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