Food & Drink

Think outside of the box for perfect pesto

Twenty-five years ago, most of us hadn’t heard of pesto. It’s now ubiquitous enough to adorn pizzas and burgers. While this puree of basil, garlic and pine nuts has a healthy image, it can pack serious fat and calories. Along with herbs and nuts, most versions of the uncooked Italian sauce are made with cheese and olive oil.

In reality, a little bit of intensely flavored pesto goes a long way to give you flavorful results. But there are ways to lighten up the sauce.

Cilantro and toasted almond pesto is a light alternative to basil versions. Cilantro is a fine choice for pesto because it has a powerful flavor. Combined with raw garlic, it creates a fresh and assertive sauce base. Instead of pine nuts, this pesto uses toasted almonds for extra flavor.

The mixture is pureed with a modest amount of extra-virgin olive oil and only a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. Use a high quality cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, to get the best flavor.

The sauce is blended with a few tablespoons of fresh lime juice, which bumps up the taste and enhances the freshness of the cilantro.

The resulting sauce is lighter than most basil pestos and makes an excellent topping for fish, poultry or flatbread. Swirl a spoonful into your favorite soup as a flavor-boosting garnish.

If you serve the pesto with pasta, thin it with a bit of the starchy pasta cooking water. This helps to stretch the pesto (while cutting fat and calories) and gives it more coating power.

Cilantro, Toasted Almond Pesto

Makes 3/4 cup (about 12 servings)

3 tablespoons slivered almonds

2 cups chopped cilantro

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons lime juice

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1/4 teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper, to taste

In a dry skillet over medium-low, stir slivered almonds until they are lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cool for 5 minutes.

In a food processor or blender, combine toasted almonds, cilantro, olive oil, lime juice, garlic, cheese, salt and pepper. Process until smooth.