Food for Thought: Herbs

It’s PESTO season! A yard full of aromatic herbs is not only pretty and good for keeping biting insects at bay, it’s also an invitation to whip up some delicious, nutritious homemade pesto. Homemade pesto tastes exponentially better than store bought. The fragrant essential oils from the freshly cut and crushed herbs create more flavor.

Store bought pestos tend to be pretty oily which makes them higher in calories and fat, and can also lead to indigestion. When fresh herbs are blended with the right amount of high quality extra virgin olive oil, nuts, garlic, lemon and parmesan, a little goes a long way on pasta, sandwiches, chicken, grilled veggies or as a garnish for soup.

Pesto contains many vitamins and minerals the body needs. Basil is rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium. Pesto made with fresh garlic adds magnesium, selenium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C to your diet. Garlic also improves blood pressure and cholesterol and helps boost the immune system. A foundational ingredient of the heart healthy Mediterranean diet, olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids and has been shown to prevent heart disease and the reduce the risk for heart attacks and strokes.

Basic basil pesto recipes abound. Here’s one from Cookie and Kate, a vegetarian recipe site with a fantastic weekly newsletter to help you plan seasonal meals. For a different flavor profile, try a pesto made with cilantro or parsley. If you’re growing tomatoes, use a bunch to try this double tomato pesto for a tangy alternative. Make a more nutritionally substantial pesto by adding or substituting kale.

What to do with too much pesto? Add a little vinegar and oil and turn it into salad dressing! You can enjoy the bounty from your herb garden all summer long.