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The Nutrition Nosh

Susan Glassman, Extension Educator, shares Nutrition and Wellness information and recipes to make life healthier!

Enjoy Pesto This Summer!

Typically, we do not cook with fresh herbs as we would spinach or kale. But, just like any other leafy green, herbs increase the nutrition density of our daily diet. Pesto includes healthy, leafy greens, usually basil. Leafy greens contain vitamins A, C, K and have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Fresh herbs like basil also add delicious flavors to meals and allow for the use of less sodium.

Recently, I have noticed how popular pesto has become! Once for use on pasta, today's pesto can be added to soup, salad, bread, or served as an accompaniment, even condiment to main dishes and desserts.

Use Pesto to Create Delicious and Healthy Dishes. Try it on...

  • Grilled foods for flavor.
  • Potato salad.
  • A plate as a garnish for grilled chicken or fish.
  • A sandwich instead of mayonnaise.
  • Ancient grains, like quinoa or barley.
  • Tomato soup with homemade croutons.

Pesto is the perfect trio of toasted nuts, aged cheese and olive oil enveloped with fresh greens and a heavy dose of garlic, who can resist! Once you have the magic formula; oil, nuts, and cheese you can have fun experimenting. Try some new variations.

New Variations for Pesto!

  • Greens: Spinach, Parsley, Arugula, Kale, Dandelion Greens
  • Nuts: Walnuts, Almonds, or Pecans
  • Cheese: Romano, Aged Asiago
  • Oil: Grapeseed or Walnut Oil
  • Fun Pesto Try-It's: Chili or Sriracha, Lemon Zest, Infused Vinegar
  • A Must: The garlic, some parts of tradition just cannot be messed with!

How to Store and Wash Greens;

Pesto Food Safety:

Follow food safety guidelines for vegetables and herbs in oil mixtures. A national research study has shown that home refrigerators are often not cold enough to store hazardous food such as vegetables and herbs in oil for long periods. Because harmful bacteria can grow faster at higher refrigerator temperatures, homemade pesto must be consumed within four days for safety.For more information, Click here to see more information on "Food Safety, when Preparing Herbs and Vegetables in Oil"

Homemade pesto:

  • Can be a source of Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which are found in soil, water and air. Oil's oxygen free environment make the perfect environment for the growth of the bacteria.
  • Must be stored in the refrigerator to prevent botulism food poisoning.
  • Must be consumed within four days or frozen for long-term storage.
  • Always label containers with the date that the oil mixture was prepared as well as the date (four days later) by which the mixture must be consumed.
  • For freezing, use ice cube trays, after freezing wrap each individual pesto cube in plastic wrap and store in a freezer container.

Recipe for Basic Pesto:

¼ cup pine nuts (or sunflower seeds, walnuts, or a combination)
3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh basil leaves (or 1 cup basil and 1 cup parsley leaves)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup olive oil

Finely chop nuts and garlic in a food processor. Add basil and chop finely. Add Parmesan cheese and salt. Mix well. When everything is well blended, add oil and mix all ingredients together, refrigerate.

  • Store pesto in the refrigerator and use within four days or freeze for long-term storage. Pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays. When frozen, wrap individual cubes in plastic wrap and store in a freezer container.

For more tips on growing and using basil, Click here for more information on "Herb Gardening, University of Illinois Extension"

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