GEORGE: Why do I get pesto? Why do I think I’ll like it? I keep trying to like it, like I have to like it.
JERRY: Who said you have to like it?
GEORGE: Everybody likes pesto. You walk into a restaurant, that’s all you hear – pesto, pesto, pesto.
JERRY: I don’t like pesto.
GEORGE: Where was pesto 10 years ago?
(Taken from “The Busboy” episode of Seinfeld from 1991)
I was 12 in 1991. I sure as hell didn’t know what pesto was back then, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have touched it with a 10 foot pole. I mean, come on. It was GREEN.
My aversion to eating anything green was quite Newman-esque back in those days…
JERRY: Hello Newman.
NEWMAN: Hello Jerry.
SETH (guy handing Newman his takeout order): And don’t forget your steamed broccoli…
JERRY: Hold it, Newman. You wouldn’t eat broccoli if it was deep fried in chocolate sauce.
NEWMAN (lying through his teeth): I love broccoli. It’s good for you.
JERRY: Really? Then maybe you’d like to have a piece?
(Newman attempts to eat a piece of broccoli but spits it out immediately.)
NEWMAN: Vile weed!
(Taken from “The Chicken Roaster” episode of Seinfeld from 1996)
Vile weed indeed. It took me a long, long time to warm up to veggies.
Only in the past few years have I begun to truly enjoy them. If you’d like to hear about my life-altering moment with Brussels sprouts, check out this piece I wrote for The LipLiner:
These days, I try to make one vegetarian meal per week. And the rest of the week’s meals may have a meat component, but they also always have plenty of veggies… In fact, I make a point of making the meat portion as small as possible, aka the actual suggested serving size that seems so meager to modern Americans.
The point is, I’ve come a long way, baby.
I would go so far as to say I could even handle becoming a vegetarian if I really wanted to… But I could never be a vegan. I mean, if I can’t have meat, at least let me have some cheese – Jeez!
Which brings us back to pesto, the main components being basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, of course.
I have a lot in common with Jerry and George, but I can’t agree about the pesto. I LOOOOVVVEE pesto. Which is why I make a huge batch of it every 4-5 months – Some for that night, a LOT to freeze.
And Pesto Primavera is both one of my favorite uses of pesto and one of my favorite vegetarian meals. Sure, it’s carb- and cheese-heavy, but I still feel good about myself for packing in 4-5 veggies every time I make it.
Ingredients for Pesto
2 packed cups basil leaves
¼ cup pine nuts
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup olive oil or EVOO
Salt & Pepper
(Special equipment: A big ass food processor – One of those mini food processors ain’t gonna cut it, especially if you double or triple the ingredients. But don’t worry – If you don’t have a food processor, you can still chomp on Pesto Primavera, just buy a jar from the store! If you hate cooking, you might wanna do this regardless because making your own pesto is an annoying little nuisance.)
The nuisance is separating all the basil leaves from the stalks. If you have kitchen shears, it’s slightly less annoying, but only slightly.
But that’s step one: Separate all your basil leaves from their stems.
Step two: Peel and press (or chop) your garlic.
Step three: Toast your pine nuts. This doesn’t mean put them in a toaster oven – It means throw them in a frying pan over medium-low heat and stir them around for a few minutes until they get a little browned. (This is a common suggestion from the pesto masters, so I obey.)
Step four: Grate your Parmesan if you don’t have pre-grated Parm.
Step five: Now put all of this stuff into your food processor, as well as the olive oil, a few dashes of salt & pepper, and a splash of lemon juice. Then process that shit.
I usually pause the processing to scrape down some of the chunks that haven’t gotten pulverized, then process for a few more seconds.
If it looks like it needs a little more oil, add a little more. If it looks good, give it a taste.
I often add a little more salt, because I always go really light on salt (you can always add more salt, but you can’t take it out once it’s in there.)
The yield is about 1 cup of pesto, which is a good amount for 1 pound of pasta.
I’m hardly reinventing the wheel when it comes to pesto – This is your basic standard recipe. Personally, I add more garlic and Parmesan cheese because I love those two things, so why the hell not. And if I’m a little short on the pine nuts, NBD, they’re expensive anyway.
Now what to do with this delicious pesto? How about some Pesto Primavera!
Ingredients for Pesto Primavera
1 lb. box pasta (my fave is cavatappi or campanelle or rotini – pretty much any pasta that “grabs” the sauce is ideal)
1 cup pesto sauce
A bunch of primavera veggies! (My faves, and the accompanying cooking instructions, are for asparagus, zucchini, snow peas, and spinach)
Oil, Salt & Pepper
Parmesan cheese (Optional, but come on. You know you want summa that Parm!)
The sweet part about Pesto Primavera is that once you have the pesto, all you really need are some veggies, pasta, optional Parmesan, a little bit of time, and you’re DONE.
My veggie picks are usually asparagus, zucchini, snow peas, and spinach. I always make one pound (one box) of pasta, because I definitely want leftovers. And I mix it all together with one cup of pesto sauce.
Certainly pick whatever veggies you prefer, but I pick these in particular because the timing works very well for this Hater. (Plus seeing all that green on my plate makes me feel so good!)
I turn my oven to 350 and wash my asparagus and zucchini. I cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces and throw ‘em in a baking dish. I drizzle them with oil, sprinkle ‘em with salt & pepper (and maybe even a little garlic powder), mix everything together, then trow the dish in the oven.
Meanwhile, I fill a stock pot 2/3 full of water and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. I then heat a small pot on low and throw in my pesto sauce.
I stir around my asparagus occasionally, and in the meantime, cut up my zucchini into 2” spears, letting the asparagus cook on its own for a good 5-10 minutes before mixing the zucchini in, and popping the dish back into the oven.
By the time I’m done incorporating the zucchini, my water is probably boiling or close to. Throw some salt, then the whole box of pasta into the boiling water, and cook according to the box’s directions, stirring every couple minutes.
As I continue to stir my pasta and my veggies occasionally, I wash and then cut up my snow peas into bite size pieces.
Now here’s where we get to personal preference time: Fork a piece of asparagus and a piece of zucchini, LET THEM COOL OFF FOR A MINUTE, then take a bite. I like my veggies more crisp, so mine are usually done by the time I cut up the snow peas.
Which is perfect, because I don’t actually cook the snow peas. I just throw them into the veggie dish once it’s out of the oven, mix everything together, and let them “cook” a minute or two amongst the still-sizzling asparagus & zucchini.
When the pasta is done, I drain it and throw it back into the pot. I then add the pesto sauce, mixing it in thoroughly, and then dump the veggies in, mixing them in well.
Finally I add my spinach raw, 2-3 handfuls, mixing well into the pasta.
I pile the Pesto Primavera high onto a couple plates and top with Parmesan cheese, of course.
And Voila! Delish vegetarian dinner served!
Servings: The way we pig out on this, I’d say it only serves 3-4.
Time involved: If you have to make the pesto first, this is going to be annoying for a Hater. But if you’re like me, and make/freeze pesto in big batches, this can be an easy 30-minute-or-less meal (depending on how long you wanna roast those veggies.)
Note for making pesto in bulk (to freeze): I read somewhere, way back when, that the top layer of pesto will brown a bit in the freezer if you just throw it in a container as is. The solution is to pour a small layer of oil on top of the pesto. For this reason, when I make my pesto, I go lighter on the oil when I’m making the sauce because I know there will be additional oil added when I get ready to freeze it.
Hater’s Note: When I make pesto, I make about 5 times as much as the above recipe states, so I can eat 1/5 of it that night, and freeze 4/5 of it for future usage. Some things that I make in large batches (planning to freeze a bunch) really don’t take much more time than if I’d just made a small batch. Like a pot of marinara or chili will pretty much take the same amount of time whether you make a whole stock pot full of it, or half. This is NOT the case with pesto. You only have to clean the food processor once, instead of multiple times, but separating all those basil leaves from the stalks takes a HELLUVA long time if you’re making a gigantic batch like I do. You’ve been warned.
Budget-conscious note: Pine nuts are expensive. I think the price I get is “reasonable” – $4.99 for 3 oz. (just under ¾ cup). But I’ve heard that many people pay a lot more for that same amount. Between that and the organic basil I buy, pesto ends up costing me $5 per cup! Granted I only use 1 cup for a whole pound of pasta, and by only including veggies in this dish, the overall price remains reasonable, but again – You’ve been warned.