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Something green + cheese + nuts + garlic + oil + salt = pesto. (Also acid, in my pesto.)
It's true that the "something green" part of the equation could be a combination of blanched kale, broccoli, and spinach. You could include garlic confit and preserved lemon and reduced balsamic. Or a range of cheeses from Piave to La Tur to Manchego. You could even splash in some argan or grape seed oil. But let's save all of that insanity for another day. I'm here to tell you how to make pesto with the minimum amount of fuss (and dishes), in under five minutes, and without a recipe. It just involves some flexibility, a bit of play, and lots of tasting.
Pesto is an ever-shifting beast: as you make it, from hour to hour as it sits, and from batch to batch. Too bland? Add more garlic, salt, and acid. Too garlicky? Add more cheese. Too herbaceous? Add more nuts. You're not locked in. Your pesto is alive.
How to Make Any Pesto in 5 Steps
1. I use my mortar and pestle, but you could use a food processor, blender, or the kitchen counter and a chef's knife. Make a paste out of one clove of garlic.
2. Add a handful of toasted warm nuts (almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, or a combination) and a handful of grated firm cheese (parmesan, asiago, pecorino, or a combination). Blend vigorously with the pestle until it’s almost creamy (a little remaining crunch is fine).
3. Add your herbs or greens (basil, parsley, mint, arugula, or a combination). Blend until you have a thick green paste (again, some chunks are fine).
4. Scrape down the sides. Add a swipe or two of lemon zest, a splash of lemon juice, a drizzle of sherry wine vinegar, a few glugs of olive oil, and a pinch of salt.
5. Pestle. Taste. Adjust seasoning. If you want, loosen it up with some more olive oil. Taste again. Adjust seasoning. Eat right away or store at room temperature covered by a thin layer of olive oil. It freezes beautifully.
Fun variations: For additional creaminess (particularly good on a sandwich), vigorously mix in some fresh goat cheese or part of a very ripe avocado. Or, for additional umaminess, add an oil-packed anchovy fillet to the garlic paste in step 1.
Still looking for a recipe? Here are a few for inspiration:
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Photos by James Ransom