Pesto, Minus the Kick

July 16, 2013   |   26 Comments
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Any proper foodie loves pesto.  It’s bright and rich.  It can dress a salad or pasta, equally well.  It makes a rockin’ omelette.  But, I’ve noticed that my kids steer clear.  Why, oh why?  I have a sneaking suspicious it’s the garlic.  So, today we’re making pesto on their terms.

Laying a big pile of basil on the counter, I think of a recent article in the New York Times, “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Food”.  Humans have systematically bred plants to be larger, sweeter, less bitter and more delicious.  The problem is, many of these fruits and vegetables have a fraction of the nutrients they used to convey to us.  Herbs are a big exception, remaining flavorful and packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and antimicrobial oils.  So I have resolved to bring herbs into the center of our meals.  Pesto is a great start.

There are a few ways to make pesto and the gold standard is crushing the leaves, pine nuts and Parmesan together using mortar and pestle.  I have heard it said that a food processor cutting olive oil makes it more bitter.  With young children at the helm, it’s a tradeoff and we have done both.


The Pros of Using Mortar and Pestle

  • There are no sharp blades – less supervision
  • The resulting pesto is a little sweeter
  • It’s a great workout for high energy toddlers
  • Smashing every part puts the kids in charge and they can easily taste along the way

The Pros of Using A Food Processor

  • It’s easy to make a lot of pesto.
  • The process is quick and exciting.
  • The result is smoother

Mingus has a particular affection for high speed power tools (please, let this phase pass!  I am imagining adult-William with a shed full of motorcycles and chainsaws.)

“Remember no fingers in the mixer.”

“Of course.  [he gives me that look, like, ‘I know!’]  How do I poke the leaves down?”

“Look in the tool drawer and see what you find.”

Mingus rummages around and picks out a measuring cup.

“What about using this?”

“Um,  give it a try.”



He jams the cup into the pile of leaves and discovers the center post in the mixer is in the way.   Undeterred, he finds a whisk and greater success.


Glub, glub, glub.  Mingus pours olive oil into the mixer.

Shake, shake, thump.  The pine nuts go inside, too.  I sprinkle in some salt.


“Mommy, would you plug in the mixer?”

A moment later, Vrrrrrrrrr!  We give it a whirl.


Mingus selects a spoon and dunks it into the bowl to drag out a sample.

“Mommy, it doesn’t taste very good.”

“Really?  Pesto is delicious.”

“I think it needs something else.”

“Like what?”

“Hmmm.  Chocolate?  Maybe lemon zest.  Or cheese.”

He is totally right.  We forgot the Parmesan!  Another whirl in the mixer fixes it.  We add a little more olive oil to get the right texture.


Mingus doesn’t wait to start eating.  He plants himself on the counter, next to our window boxes.  Mostly, we grow herbs, but there is a swath of arugula too (another plant that still packs a great nutrient punch).  He plucks leaf after leaf, dipping and munching.


After a while, he realizes that nearly the whole patch has passed into his stomach.

“Mommy, we need more leaves.”

I open the fridge and pass him a tray of spinach.  The munch-fest continues.  Pesto, minus the garlic, is a huge hit.  He’s “ruined” his dinner eating leaves.

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Pesto, Minus the Kick
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
This pesto is a classic, minus the kick. It is a great dip for raw veggies at snack time. It can dress a cold salad or hot pasta. My kids prefer to eat pesto from a little condiment cup on the side of their plate. The meal becomes a fun dipping activity and they’re in charge.
  • Approximately 2 Cups of Fresh Basil
  • ½ Cup Olive Oil
  • ½ Cup Pine Nuts
  • ½ Cup Parmesan
  • Salt to Taste
  1. Start out by ripping the basil leaves off of their stalks.
  2. Carefully poke the leaves inside a food processor
  3. Pour in an unmeasured ½ cup of olive oil. There’s no need to use the fancy stuff. Then add the pine nuts and parmesan. Don’t worry about exact measurements. And then sprinkle a dash of salt in too.
  4. Run the food processor until the pesto is smooth, about 30 seconds.
  5. Open the lid, stick in a spoon and taste what you’ve got. If the result is too runny, add more pine nuts. If the result is too thick, add more olive oil. Then whirr it again.
Pesto keeps well for a week in the fridge. I always pour a layer of olive oil on top to preserve its bright green color.



  • Ash- foodfashionparty
    July 17, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Your little one is clearly the star of this post..too cute.
    The pros of mortar and pestle surely wins, I am gonna give it a shot for sure.
    The pesto looks so fresh and nice..
    Thanks for visiting my blog and I got introduced to your lovely blog..Nice meeting you.

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
    July 17, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Pesto is definitely THE sauce in my house. We put it on bread, pasta, eggs…anything, really. Love this simple recipe!

    • Laura Clark
      July 23, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      I keep finding new things for pesto. Last night we put some leftover pesto on flash fried Brussels sprouts and it was amazing. I agree about the eggs and love it when the parmesan browns in the pan… yum.

  • Kim@Treats & Trinkets
    July 17, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Yum, can’t beat homemade pesto!

    • Laura Clark
      July 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      I grew up with the store-bought stuff and didn’t understand the hoopla until I ordered it, as an adult, at a great Italian restaurant. It’s been a staple in my house ever since.

  • Rosa
    July 17, 2013 at 11:08 am

    A wonderful pesto! I love garlic, but this version would please me too.



  • Rocky Mountain Woman
    July 17, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    What a great idea! I’ll have to try it with my little grandson next time he visits…

    I also hadn’t thought about the fact that herbs are less likely to have the nutrition bred out of them.

    Lovely blog!

    Thanks so much for stopping by….

  • Pam
    July 17, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Even though I love, love, love garlic – sometimes it can overpower a good pesto. This looks terrific.

    • Laura Clark
      July 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      I’m also in the “love love love garlic” camp. I have to remember not to over-spice things for my kids – they’re still so sensitive to flavors – but eventually *fingers crossed* they’ll love it too.

  • Anne ~ Uni Homemaker
    July 18, 2013 at 1:21 am

    I love a good homemade pesto and this looks so vibrantly beautiful!

  • Joanne
    July 18, 2013 at 9:16 am

    My boyfriend HATES the raw garlic in pesto also so I”m going to have to try this on him! Love it!

    • Laura Clark
      July 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm

      It’s amazing how a single flavor is such a love/hate thing… my husband hates parsley. I mean, who hates parsley?

  • Maggie @ Sunnyside Up Smile
    July 18, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Hi Laura! Thanks so much for your comment on my blog! 😉 Your blog is beautifully designed and your photography is flawless! I am a pesto lover and I love that you put a good amount of parm in it! Cheese makes everything better. That’s why I’m still not vegan lol.

    • Laura Clark
      July 23, 2013 at 7:27 pm

      I think I might sink into a deep depression without parmesan. Really enjoying your blog, thanks for coming by:)

  • Nicole @ Young, Broke and Hungry
    July 18, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Homemade pesto is a staple in my house! It’s so easy to make.

    • Laura Clark
      July 23, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      You’re right – it’s totally simple. Even the boys remember how to make pesto now:)

  • Cathy Pollak ~ Noble Pig
    July 19, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Wow, now I want to try the mortar and pestle method. Thanks for the tip.

    • Laura Clark
      July 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm

      Love mortar and pestle and its so simple, I feel like I could be cooking a thousand years ago. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Kiran @
    July 20, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Homemade pesto’s are so addictive!! I’ve never seen a kid eating leaves with such enthusiasm!! Bravo, William :)

  • Amy @ Elephant Eats
    July 21, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    This is adorable :) And I must say that William sounds like a super smart little boy! Such good problem-solving skills. And a great idea to use pesto for dipping :)

  • Barbara @ Barbara Bakes
    July 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

    What a healthy way to ruin your dinner. A mortar and pestle are on my list of things to buy.

  • Pamela @ Brooklyn Farm Girl
    July 23, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    Love your pictures, thanks for sharing your pesto journeys! This pesto looks great, I’ve been craving it lately and made some pesto pizza last night. It hit the spot!

  • Meghan @ The Tasty Fork
    July 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    I love all kinds of pesto! I’ve made it too garlicy before… good to have this recipe just in case the garlic starts to get a little strong.

  • sandra
    August 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    that is awesome! I have to try and make this with my son – probably the mortar and pestle is the way to go for us.

  • Tamara Coleman
    October 10, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    I’m such a lover of anything pesto! YUM!

  • Marco
    September 20, 2014 at 2:53 am

    I want to to thank you for thi excellent read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it.
    I have you book-marked to check out new stuff you post…

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