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Not-So-Basic Pesto Sauces for Spring

Add a punch of fresh flavor to your spring meals with these easy, herby sauces.


In America the word "pesto" refers to the familiar green mixture of basil, garlic, parm, and pine nuts we all know and love. In Italy, though, the word refers to the preparation – pounding ingredients together using a mortar and pestle to make a paste that is then thinned with olive oil to a sauce-like consistency.
Of course most of us use a food processor to speed the pesto- making process, but if you've never tried the traditional by-hand method, give it a whirl, especially if you want to make a small amount (anything less than a cup in the appliance can become over-processed and you'll lose half of it in the clean-up!). Start with the hardiest ingredients – garlic and nuts – add tender herbs next, then thin with oil to make it as saucy as you like.
Once you expand your pesto horizons beyond the old familiar you will understand how truly versatile pesto can be. Virtually anything can be the basis of one, from chiles or kale to pistachios or walnuts. At this time of year, though, when our farmer's markets are just beginning to shrug off their winter doldrums, the hit of brightness an herb pesto delivers is just what the doctor ordered.

Don't let your imagination stop with the trusty pasta/pesto combo. Swirl a dollop of cilantro pesto into a tomato or black bean soup, smear some rosemary pesto under the skin of your chicken before you roast it, or use chervil pesto as the basis for a delicate dressing to toss with spring greens.
The recipes here feature three different ways to use herbal sauces: red pepper, macadamia, and dill pesto makes a savory bed for simple broiled cod; parsley-lemon pesto is an easy year-round alternative to the Genovese classic; and a drizzle of mint salsa verde, traditional pesto's kissing cousin, cuts through the fatty flavor of grilled lamb. Try one, try all, or make up your own – you'll be glad you gave it a spin.

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