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The classic Ligurian pesto, with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic and olive oil, is really just a blueprint for creating any kind of garlicky, oily sauce. Here are five ways to play with the formula to create your own version for tossing with pasta or spooning over anything from the grill.
1. Vary the green. Basil is classic, but other tender herb leaves, like parsley, cilantro and mint (or a combination of all of these) also work well. Or skip the herbs and try kale, arugula or broccoli rabe—a great sneaky way to eat your greens.
2. Switch up the nuts. Pine nuts are the go-to but they can be spendy. Instead, try almonds or walnuts, which make a heartier pesto. Or, for a less obvious choice, add pistachios or Brazil nuts, which both have a natural buttery flavor that’s delicious in the sauce.
4. Mix and match. After you get comfortable with varying the formula, you can come up with creative combos, like oregano-pistachio or olive-hazelnut. Or move pesto away from its Italian roots and make a Mexican version with poblano peppers and queso fresco, or an Asian version with lemongrass, ginger and yuzu kosho.
5. Choose your mixing method. Sure, the fastest way to pulverize your pesto is in a food processor, but pounding it together in a mortar and pestle yields a pesto with an incomparable texture, and helps you work out your aggression, to boot.
Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.