Like the best Italian delicacies, there are innumerable ways to make pesto and every family insists that they make the best. If your knowledge of the wonderful green sauce is a little bit hazy, it originated in Italy and goes well on pasta or baked into bread or even as a spread on pizza.
Basil is the main ingredient in most pesto and just about any homemade recipe that you stumble upon will include the herb. At Chowhound, we’re pretty proud of our pesto recipe, which calls for four cups of basil. The sauce is even better when you use fresh basil from your garden, but on the off chance that you can’t get your hands on any basil, there are plenty of substitutes that make for an excellent pesto.
Of course, no matter what recipe you choose, you’re probably going to need a food processor to blend all the ingredients.
The most popular way to go basil-free on your pesto is to use nuts as one of the main ingredients. If you decide to go this route, we recommend toasting your nuts for a bit before you put them into the sauce—it’ll give it a sweeter kick. You’ll find a lot of recipes that incorporate pine nuts as the main ingredient but those can get rather pricey. Almonds are decent but pistachios are even better. If you prefer, you can even keep the pesto a little less processed to give you a chunky sauce.
You can’t go wrong using cheese as your main ingredient in your pesto, even though that might sound a bit odd. Most recipes call for parmesan but we’d suggest getting a bit more creative, try something aged with plenty of saltiness—gouda and asiago are both worthy substitutes. If you decide to try this, you might consider going a little bit heavier on the olive oil and a little bit lighter on the salt, that should keep your texture solid enough to spread but loose enough to maneuver.
Most recipes call for garlic anyway but if you want a sauce with a bit of a kick, try doubling up on the garlic and cutting basil. Make sure you mince the cloves thoroughly to let the juices out.
We would be remiss not to suggest an avocado-based basil; especially since we seem to be putting avocados on everything else, anyway. If you decide to use the fruit as your main ingredient, try to pick a harder one so that it won’t go totally to paste when you put it through the processor. And since avocados don’t have the intense flavor of basil, you can get a little more creative on this, maybe add some freshly ground pepper or spritz it with a lime.
Substituting greens is another great way to change up your pesto and one of the more popular herbs is mint. It will taste a lot different than basil but it’s a great alternative when you’re feeling creative. If you want to stay in the same ballpark as pesto, try using cilantro, arugula, or parsley.
While we’ve outlined a few of the ways to substitute basil, the important thing to keep in mind is that you can never get too creative with this sauce. Just make sure you keep track of your recipes so you don’t lose that one great taste!
Related Video: How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad
Header image courtesy of Nom Nom Paleo.