When Life Gives You Basil, Make Pesto

14 Jul

At the beginning of the summer I joined a community garden at the university.  If you’re not familiar with the concept, a community garden is essentially a garden (in our case, a vegetable garden) that is collectively maintained by a group of people.  Early on I helped clear the garden space of wild grass and weeds and I even got to plant some seeds.  Now that the garden is up and growing, I visit on an ongoing basis to help weed and water the plants.  It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience– I’ve learned a lot from my fellow gardeners and from watching the garden grow over time.


Me and some of my fellow gardeners in the vegetable garden


While I was weeding at the garden this morning, one of the organizers insisted that I take home some basil.  She said that it was going to flower soon, which is undesirable as it makes the plant taste more bitter.  Who knew?  Anyway, she really didn’t have to pull my arm– I was happy to take home what was more than just “some” basil… she practically gave me an entire plant!

It didn’t take much thought to figure out what to do with the basil.  Loads of basil = pesto, but not the calorie-dense store-bought pesto. I wanted a lightened up pesto full of fresh flavours that I could use liberally on my pasta.


Lightened Up Pesto


I found this recipe on Weight Watchers but modified it a bit based on taste and what I had on hand.  Pine nuts are traditionally used in pesto but I’ve seen recipes that use almonds/walnuts/just about any nut imaginable.  I didn’t have pine nuts on hand so I used sliced almonds and it worked out perfectly.  And much more cost effective!  If you’re using the pesto for pasta, a great trick is to save some of the pasta cooking water.  When it’s time to toss, first add the desired amount of pesto to the pasta, toss a bit, and then add a dash or two of the pasta water.  This makes it easier to evenly coat the pasta with pesto while giving the sauce more body and an almost creamy mouthfeel.

Buon appetito!


Whole Wheat Spaghettini with Lightened Up Pesto and Shrimp


Lightened Up Pesto   (Adapted from WeightWatchers.com)

1 cup packed basil leaves
1 tbsp pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp vegetable or chicken broth (or water)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)

Place all ingredients in a small food processor and blend on high speed until smooth.

Makes 1/2 cup pesto.  Per 2 tbsp: 85 kcal, 9 g fat, 158 mg sodium

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