Pesto Pointers for the Gluten and Allergen Free!

by Kathleen Reale

Dairy Free Nut Free Fish Free Soy Free Gluten Free 

Pesto is a traditional northern Italian sauce. Pesto, meaning “pounded” in Italian is traditionally made with fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, and garlic. Naturally gluten-free, and easily adaptable for those with food allergies, pesto is a welcoming burst of flavor that can be incorporated numerous ways into a gluten-free and allergen-free diet.

Pesto was originally invented as a frugal sauce to take advantage of the abundance of basil and other ingredients available in Northern Italy. Therefore it only makes sense in today’s world, that we also use ingredients that are readily available and inexpensive, as well as suitable to whatever allergens or dietary restrictions we are concerned with.

Following are some pointers on making and preparing fresh pesto for the gluten and allergen free:

Substitute, substitute, substitute!
Pesto should always be made depending on the ingredients on hand, as well as any allergen concerns. It’s your sauce so experiment with different ingredients and flavors!

Some variations of pesto include replacing the traditional basil with cilantro, arugula, mint or inexpensive spinach; as well as adding more exotic flavors such as lemon, olives or roasted red peppers. Pine nuts can also be replaced with less expensive walnuts.

If you are allergic to dairy or nuts, leave out the cheese & nuts from a basic pesto recipe. Pistou, a cold sauce made from cloves of garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil is the French cousin to pesto and can be adequately substituted for pesto.

Also, those with nut allergies may want to stay clear of pine nuts and not include them in their pesto recipe. Although pine nuts are actually seeds, some people allergic to nuts are also allergic to pine nuts and other seeds.  As always check with your doctor to discuss what foods are right for you to eat.

Find your pulse! Pesto historically has been made with a mortar and pestle. Although, pesto can still be made by finely chopping the ingredients and blending or pounding them together, many folks in today’s world take advantage of food processors or blenders. Some tips to keep in mind while using these devices is the use the pulse feature. This prevents the pesto from becoming an over processed, flavorless puree. Remember – pesto should be slightly chunky in order to enjoy each ingredients individual flavor, together in the same dish.

Freeze it!
Pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Pesto can also be frozen and enjoyed year round. Some pointers on freezing pesto are as follows:

Since pesto freezes quite soft, it can be frozen in a larger container or freezer safe zipper bag and chiseled off as needed. However, some find it more convenient to freeze pesto in ice cube trays, and once hard transferring the “cubes” to a freezer safe zipper bag for cube-at-a-time use!

Oxidation alert!
Pesto oxidizes quickly which can causes it go from a bright green to a dark hue in no time. However, adding a thin top layer of olive oil over the pesto prior to freezing makes it oxidize less quickly. Another hint: Add a bit of lemon juice to your pesto recipe to delay the oxidation process.

How to use pesto? Let me count my favorite ways!
Once you start using pesto in your gluten and allergen-free cooking, you will find so many ways to incorporate it into all of your dishes. Some of my most favorite ways to use pesto are as follows:

- Toss it in!  Gluten-free pasta & pesto along with a handful of fresh chopped tomatoes makes a quick and easy allergen and gluten-free dinner – year round!

- It’s eggs-cellent! Add pesto to omelets or coat a skillet with pesto prior to making your morning hash brown potatoes.

- It’s tops! Use pesto to top it all! Broiled fish, steaks, steamed veggies, pizza (instead of tomato sauce), baked potatoes, or as a marinade for a whole chicken or chicken breasts. The possibilities are endless!

- Stir it in! Add a dollop of pesto to vegetable or minestrone soup for instant flavor.

- Dress it up & spread it on! Add a bit more olive oil, and some vinegar and you have instant salad dressing. Blend pesto and mayonnaise together and use a spread on gluten-free bread – you’ll have an instant gourmet sandwiches in a pinch!

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