My basil is dead. It’s beyond dead, I know, because I give a nod of acknowledgment to the desiccated stems poking up from the windswept snow of the garden every time I pass. I left it there for “vertical interest,” and not because I was too lazy to clear the area in the fall. Really.
Gone are the days when I could go barefoot to pick handfuls of fragrant basil and buzz up a batch of pesto within seconds. That basil cost nearly nothing, just a packet of seeds and some water. Pesto is a workhorse in my kitchen. This time of year, basil gets to be quite dear, and for variety I switch to something a little less pricey.
So I move to my winter pesto. Parsley is less expensive and deserves more respect. It’s a lovely, peppery herb, and adds a fresh flavor to dishes. It’s not just a garnish, but because it’s durable and pretty, it’s somehow been relegated to a supporting role next to other food.
Lest it seem that this pesto is a mere stand-in for the summer kind, let me assure you it is a perfectly delicious sauce all on its own. Whether you are topping a simple spaghetti, or slathering it on sandwiches, pizzas or cooked vegetables, this sauce gives you some bang for the buck. Stir it into hot vegetable soup, drizzle it on a baked potato or stir it into your favorite hummus, for an herby, garlicky upgrade.
Pesto also gives egg dishes a flavor upgrade, whether you stir it into scrambled eggs just before serving or add it to your egg salad. Stir it into mashed tofu or toss it with white beans for a quick, high-protein vegan dish.
My winter pesto is a combination of spinach, parsley, garlic and walnuts. You have the option to use Parmesan or a vegan alternative. Spinach has the unique ability to stay green longer in pesto, so you can save this for a couple of days without it turning dark. It provides a sweetness that is a great base for the parsley. Your pesto is only as good as the olive oil you use, so break out the extra-virgin. If you are watching the budget, you can use half canola.
Winter pesto will brighten your dinner on the darkest day, and save you a few pennies, too.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.