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I learned 3 valuable lessons from this new pesto cookbook

Illustration for article titled I learned 3 valuable lessons from this new pesto cookbook
Photo: Leslie Lennox (Agate)

You may raise an eyebrow at single-subject cookbooks: “Am I really going to make enough cake pops to justify an entire book on the subject?” (I owned the cake pop cookbook. I made them once and donated the book thereafter.)

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But the best single-subject cookbooks expand your understanding of a dish or ingredient you might have previously considered narrow. Such was the case with Pesto: The Modern Mother Sauce, a new cookbook I’ve found surprisingly versatile. Its pages are already olive oil-smudged from many consultations this summer.

I came to the book as most of us would, thinking pesto is a basil-cheese-oil-pine-nut combo that’s tasty on pasta and pizza and caprese salads, end scene. Author Leslie Lennox argues that pesto is a mother sauce in the tradition of hollandaise and béchamel, “a base for a wealth of other sauces and dishes.” Pesto is not the end product of a recipe, it’s the foundation for many more. Having read and cooked my way across this book, I’ll share my CliffsNotes.

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You can use cheaper nuts.

Fam, pine nuts are expensive. I’ve neglected to look at the prices in the bulk section of the grocery store, only to do a spit-take at the register. This book encouraged me to use up nuts I already had in my pantry: almonds, candied pecans (try them in a spinach pesto), pistachios (try them with arugula), even peanuts in a Thai-inspired pesto.

Pesto can flavor other sauces.

Pesto is not just a final product. It can become a component of other sauces and dishes: pesto mayonnaise, pesto buttermilk dressing, pesto vinaigrette, pesto marinara sauce. When I have just a little extra pesto left in my jar, I stir it around with some mayo and lemon juice to make a sandwich spread or shake it up with oil and vinegar to make a salad dressing. Also, a spoonful of pesto added into a regular meatball recipe is tops. Try it in omelets, too. An open jar of pesto in my fridge never languishes anymore.

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Pesto can lean Mexican, or Thai, or Japanese.

This was perhaps the greatest revelation of all: Duh, why am I not using pesto in Thai noodles? Or in shakshuka? Or gazpacho? There’s even a pesto ramen bowl recipe in the book I have yet to try. Because practically any greens can become pesto, it becomes a much more adaptable sauce than I was giving it credit for. Now any time a dinner needs a fresh, herbaceous lift, there’s a jar in my fridge for that.

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Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

pomegranatesforall
PomegranatesForAll

Not only are pine nuts expensive, they can leave some people with a horrible aftertaste for weeks. I was unlucky enough to have that happen to me after making pesto one day (not the first time—who knows why it suddenly hit me then). A disgustingly bitter taste filled my mouth and basically stayed there for a month. The only thing I could stomach eating was super sweet fruit like watermelon and bananas. I could tolerate peanut butter if I ate it quickly, but if it stayed in my mouth for more than a minute the bitter taste would spread the way that the spiciest of peppers can do. Eventually it passed, but I’ve been a walnut pesto fan ever since.