Sugar Snap Pesto

Excerpt from my June 26, 2009 column in the Register Star and Daily Mail:

Pesto means “to pound.” Traditionally it is made with a mortar and pestle…and basil. I will occasionally make regular pesto that way. For this recipe I’m substituting sugar snap peas for the basil and am using a food processor to make quick work of “pounding” the pea pods. The result is a beautifully green, bright tasting pesto. Perfect for tossing in pasta or serving with grilled fish or chicken.


2 cups young sugar snap peas (Whole, not shelled. Taste a whole pea. If it is not sweet, shell the peas first.)
1-2 garlic cloves
1 cup shelled pistachio nuts
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 tablespoon rice vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper


-Remove the stems and strings from pea pods. Wash and pat dry.
-Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend. Add more olive oil if pesto is too dry.
-Taste; add more salt, pepper, and lemon juice if needed

Pistachio Pesto

Purists make pesto by hand using a mortar and pestle. Pesto is derived from the Latin word “pesta, which means “to pound, to crush.” They say that hand-pounding pesto keeps the flavors distinct and it releases more of the oil from the basil, so the pesto is more flavorful.

My husband and I have raced to see who could make pesto faster- me, with a mortar and pestle; he with a food processor. The rule was it had to include cleaning and putting away the food processor. I’m pretty sure I won, but he may remember it differently.

Either way, you can whip up a batch in less time than it takes to walk the dog around the block.

I like to make my pesto with pistachios. It gives it a great color. My husband likes to make his with toasted pecans and jalapenos. Yu-uum. You can follow the basic recipe and experiment with different ingredients.

Here’s what you need:
2-3 cups loosely packed fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/4- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pistachio nuts
2-3 garlic cloves
a dash or two of cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

When hand pounding, start off pounding the garlic and coarse salt, then add about 1/3 of the nuts and 1/3 of the basil. I keep one hand sort of cupped around the top of the mortar to keep the nuts from flying out. Keep adding the nuts and basil. Once those are pounded to a very course paste, stir in the oil and cheese last.

With a food processor, just put everything in and give it a whirl.

Chopped basil will oxidize and turn brown. To prevent this, cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil before you store it in the fridge (it will keep, covered with plastic wrap, for about a week).

Pesto is great, of course, tossed in pasta, but is equally as good on chicken, pork, fish or pizza.

I like to make a big batch and freeze it. You can freeze pesto in ice cube trays. Then store the frozen cubes in a bag so you can grab a few when you need them. I usually make small pesto balls (like drop cookies), freeze them on a cookie sheet, then throw them in a freezer bag.

Once winter comes around, you’ll be happy you froze a little bit of summer.