Pesto & Pesto Pasta


You know pesto can be made with anything, right? No basil? No pine nuts? No parmesan? Pesto can still be done. All you really need is a bunch of herbs, a handful of nuts and some sort of hard salty cheese. While nothing perhaps marries quite as well as basil, pine nuts and parmesan, variations made with with other herbs, nuts and cheeses do the job quite nicely.

Earlier this week I pulled two tired bunches of cilantro and parsley from my fridge, and after refreshing them in some cold water (and extracting a few slimy strands), I buzzed them in the food processor with some raw almonds (all I had) and some grated Pecorino (all I had). With the exception of the herb quantity, I followed Darcy’s recipe to a T — it is fantastic. It didn’t need a pinch more salt nor a squeeze more lemon.

All week long I’ve been slathering the pesto on anything I can justify — eggs, roasted red pepper caprese salads, pasta. I’ve never felt more prepared for tomato season. It couldn’t arrive a day too soon.

cilantro pesto ingredients

cuisinart with pesto ingredients

cuisinart with pesto


dry Gragnano pasta

Adapted from The Garden of Eden

Note: Darcy (from the Garden of Eden) made a basil pesto, so if you would like to follow her instructions, find the recipe here.

3 cups herbs* such as basil, cilantro, parlsey, chives, etc., rinsed
1/4 cup nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pine nuts**
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice (I juiced half a lemon)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly-ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated dry salty cheese such as Pecorino or Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano

* I probably added double the amount of herbs? I didn’t measure. My goal was to clean out the refrigerator. Also, I always add stems and everything — no need to pluck leaves for pesto.

** Darcy used toasted pine nuts.

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and purée until nicely blended. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Note: Darcy first processed the basil, nuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper until almost smooth, then slowly streamed in the olive oil with the food processor on. Finally, she stirred in the parmesan cheese.

Final note from Darcy: To prevent discoloration when storing pesto, it is best to put a thin layer of olive oil over the pesto and then cover it.

Pesto Pasta
Serves 2

1/2 lb pasta, something like gemelli or orecchiette
1/4 to 1/2 cup pesto
1/2 cup pasta cooking water
Parmigiano Reggiano for serving (optional — I did not find additional cheese to be necessary)

1. Cook pasta al dente, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water before draining.

2. Add 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid back into the pan. Place the pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a little simmer and add 1/4 cup of the pesto. Stir with the water until blended. Add the pasta to the pan and stir/toss until the pasta is nicely coated. At this point, keeping adding pesto to the pasta one tablespoon at a time. You might not need the full 1/2 cup — I did in fact use a 1/2 cup of pesto for the 1/2 pound of pasta, and it was delicious, but perhaps may have been just as delicious with a tablespoon or two less pesto.

3. Serve pasta passing grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side if desired.

pesto pasta

pesto pasta


    • says

      I know, Matt, it’s so frustrating. I still have not been able to find an online source. I received another stash from my friend in NYC. I’m so spoiled. Next time she visits I’ll have her bring me more bags, and then I’ll mail you one.

    • says

      Matt, hi, I just received an email from the owner of Po Valley Foods, and they have added afeltra pasta to their online site. The pasta isn’t arriving till August 15th, so you might want to wait to order till later, but I just wanted to give you a head’s up. Also, I’m headed to NYC in a few weekends and will definitely be paying a visit to Eataly. I will pick you up a bag of pasta for sure!

  1. molly says

    I am so crazy about pesto! My latest version has been without cheese…but with the addition of frozen peas, which manage to bulk up the recipe and provide a mysterious savory quality. I tried watercress and walnut pesto this week. Yum! I love how wildly green your pesto looks.

    • says

      Molly — I’m intrigued! I have frozen peas on hand — a failed attempt to get Ella to eat vegetables — and now I know how I will use them up. Thanks for that! Watercress and walnut pesto sounds divine.

  2. Liz says

    Alexandra–do you mean you used 6 cups herbs? The cilantro pesto has a brighter color than the standard pesto made with basil. So beautiful! Love the idea of almonds, too.

    • says

      Thanks, Alex! The health authorities would probably say pesto keeps for about a week, but honestly, I’ve kept pesto in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks. Hope that helps!

  3. says

    I can’t wait to try cilantro pesto, what a grand idea! My current favorite is arugula pesto.
    Since I always make a big batch I freeze the pesto in half cup portions in small plastic containers. I cover the top of the pesto in olive oil before sealing the container. It lasts several months in the freezer without any noticeable change in flavor or texture.

  4. says

    Another amazing post for me to drool over… I’m featuring the pesto in this week’s Food Fetish Friday series (with a link-back and attribution). I hope you have no objections and as always I love following your creations… Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. says

    Pesto pizza! I’m feeling inspired. hehe. This looks so delicious. I’ve spotted this pasta in the markets here in Zürich, but that’s not really much help now is it. Hm. I love visitors though. Also, someone was telling me that you can pour olive oil on the top of your pesto and it will keep longer (and pour it off before you use it). I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like a reasonable idea.

  6. Margaret says

    I hate how short a life cilantro has, but this is a great solution to all the cilantro in my fridge that goes bad after 2 days, I never thought to turn it into pesto. Question – what’s your experience with how long pesto will keep in a mason jar?

  7. Margaret says

    Nevermind my question, I saw your comment above to Alexandra. It probably won’t last more than a week in my house anyway :)

  8. Theresa says

    I’ve had pesto made with garlic scapes (the green part of garlic in the garden) which was amazing as a pizza topping instead of tomato. Also, cilantro will keep in the fridge for a long time (I’ve had it keep almost 3 weeks) if you trim the stems, put it in a glass of water, then cover it with a plastic bag and put it in the fridge.

  9. familyoffour says

    What an addictive website. Just love all your recipes — things that I have been thinking about and am now inspired to do! Also, after using whatever fresh cilantro I need, I always freeze the rest. It still gives great flavour for soups and certain salads and keeps for months in a air tight baggie. :-)

    • says

      Familyoffour — thank you so much for your nice comment. And great tip on the cilantro. So, do you freeze it fresh? Or do you blanch it first? I have never tried freezing fresh herbs, but I have heard that it works and am curious how you do it.

  10. Mary H says

    Another variation for pesto: skip the cheese altogether and use avocado. Delicious. You may want to up the salt a bit and add a squeeze of lemon. I tried this when I had 2 bunches of basil and for some unknown reason, no parmesan cheese. It was amazing. It could easily be mixed with buttermilk, greek yogurt and a bit of mayo to make a salad dressing.

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