You can whip up this simple recipe with ingredients you already have in your fridge and pantry.
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If you have yet to make a batch of homemade pesto, prepare to be amazed. Not only is the simple sauce easy to throw together, but it's incredibly versatile. You can customize it with whichever ingredients you like to fit everyone's preferences. Plus, if you start to think of pesto as a way to make use of the bits of herbs, cheese, and nuts you have around, then making pesto from scratch stops feeling like a special occasion food, and instead, one that helps you use things up when the fridge begins to look like it needs some attention. Here's a loose set of guidelines to follow to help you make a freestyle pesto of your own.

homemade pesto
Credit: Jason Donnelly

The Greens and Herbs

The more you add, the better your pesto will be. Any mix is welcome, but try to use leafy herbs such as cilantro and parsley and flavorful greens, including arugula or watercress as the base. Sturdy herbs such as oregano and thyme and spiky rosemary can add a nice flavor, but their texture can result in a coarse pesto. Below are a few herbs and greens that always lead to delicious results. 

  • Cilantro
  • Parsley 
  • Arugula 
  • Vegetable tops like carrot, radishes, or beet greens 
  • Pea shoots
  • Spinach

Add Your Favorite Nuts

Nuts play a role in most pestos. Think pine nuts, walnuts, and almonds. They're all fair game in your pesto, but don't forget pistachios, peanuts, and cashews. From there, you can toast the nuts to amplify their flavors, use smoked nuts (remember this is about using what you have on hand). Here are some nuts to consider.

  • Pine nuts
  • Walnuts 
  • Almond
  • Pistachio
  • Peanuts 
  • Cashews
  • Pecans
  • Pepitas 

Indulge in Your Favorite Cheese

The nuts and cheese provide the rich and creamy elements that make pesto so universally delicious. It's why you can spread pesto on toast or swirl into pasta. Parmagiano and Romano show up in the pesto most of us are familiar with; however, creamier cheeses like feta are also delicious. All the cheeses below are fair game. 

  • Parmagiano 
  • Romano 
  • Asiago 
  • Feta 
  • Smoked Provolone
  • Aged Cheddar

Pulling it All Together 

Want the easiest version? Make your pesto in a blender. Want to linger a bit in the kitchen? Time for your mortar and pestle. The food processor ($55, Bed Bath & Beyond) puts you somewhere in the middle—and it's the best way to make pesto when you watch to make a big batch. You also need items like garlic, olive, and, of course, salt and pepper to pull it together.

Power-Up Your Pesto 

So, now that you've got a basic pesto going on raid the pantry for power-up items. 

  • Super Savory Pesto: Add miso, anchovies, a splash of soy sauce, or even some tomato paste. 
  • Creamier Pesto: Add a dollop of mayo. 
  • Spicy: Pickled jalapenos, fresh chiles of any preference, or a dash of red pepper flakes will do it.
  • Brighter: A splash of citrus juice, lime, lemon, and orange juice are all tasty additions.

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