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We all know that reducing food waste is vital for the environment and our wallets, but it can be challenging to know where to start. Pesto is a versatile sauce that can be made with many different ingredients to use up scraps from your kitchen. This blog post will discuss how pesto reduces waste year round and provide delicious recipes for sustainable eating!
If you grow basil, you may think homemade pesto is limited to a few months out of the whole year. But, since pesto is not defined by its ingredients, you can make pesto—and reduce waste—all year long.
The word pesto comes from an Italian verb that means “to grind” or “to pound.” That’s also where we get one of the words for the original tool used to make pesto—the mortar and pestle. Therefore, pesto is a process, not a specific recipe.
Why is basil so common in pesto, then? In northwestern Italy, Liguria, basil grows abundantly along the shores. Locals in this area want to make the most of their basil crop without letting it go to waste, so they use it as the main ingredient in pesto.
With that same mindset, you can reduce waste by making homemade pesto using local and seasonal produce year round. Pesto isn’t limited by where you live—you don’t need Ligurian basil to make this versatile sauce. There are infinite variations for pesto-making, from leafy greens and herbs to your favorite fruits and vegetables.
Now that you have a better understanding of the limitless options for pesto, let’s explore five specific ways homemade pesto can help you reduce waste in your household at any time of year.
Can I use stems in pesto?
As a kid, I rarely ate all the broccoli on my plate, and I couldn’t come to terms with the stems. Even as I got older, I’d find myself tossing the stems into my trash can as I prepared dishes like stir-fry or roasted veggies. I turned the corner in many ways beyond broccoli when I discovered that stems, leaves, peels, and other scraps could be used to make pesto. Numerous types of fresh produce in their entirety are great options for pesto. Think carrot or beet tops,radish tops, the bottoms of asparagus stalks, potato peels, cheese rinds, and plenty more.
This recipe forpesto uses broccoli stems is a recipe I love because it has a rich history. During WWI, G.I’s ate a lot of broccoli while serving abroad, and they grew to like the vegetable, creating a demand for it.
Grocery stores often group fresh herbs into bunches of predetermined sizes. The recipe won’t use the whole bunch, but it’s the perfect time to make homemade pesto. Whether leafy greens like spinach or a half-bunch of parsley, there’s always room for wilted leafy greens in pesto.
Rather than throwing these fresh ingredients away, blend it with somenuts or seeds, whatever cheese you may have on hand, a clove or two of garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil.
If you prefer a more precise approach to using your wilted greens, I recommend trying my Greek-inspiredParsley Pesto Recipe, which can be found below.
It also calls for dill weed, so if you end up with several half bunches of fresh herbs in your fridge like me, you can use it all without a single toss to the trash. And remember the first idea—yes, use the stems of herbs, too.
Turn your kitchen into a zero-waste test lab
One of my favorite classes in grade school was chemistry. There’s something about those hands-on experiments, seeing chemicals change colors when combined and wearing a lab coat and cool goggles. Swap that attire for an apron, and think of your kitchen as a chemistry lab. Your approach to cooking transforms into a fun, creative, and exciting one. By trying new food combinations, you open up options to use things you usually might just toss out. This will help make you more conscious of what you let go to waste and the more significant impact that carries with it.
While developing my pesto recipes, I had a blast trying new flavor combinations and even some ingredients I’d never used before. As my palate expanded, I saw myself wasting less food. One of my pesto recipes uses some elements that I love but don’t eat in large quantities, so I’d often find expired days or weeks prior.
Pesto can be stored in the fridge for up to five to seven days using an air-tight container. You can also freeze it for up to several months. Just know that, depending on the ingredients used, the texture may change upon thaw. Once the pesto thaws, you can use it like any other pesto and enjoy living that more earth-friendly pesto lifestyle.
When you think about reducing waste, how you shop is just as important as what you’re buying. Likewise, you’re ahead of the game by making pesto at home and skipping the store-bought varieties because you’ll be storing your homemade pesto in reusable containers and not tossing away jar after jar.
Freeze Pesto So You Can Enjoy It Later
With planning, you can reduce waste right now and also in the future. One example of this takes me back again to my childhood. My family would grow long-neck pumpkins in the summer and fall. But, we weren’t eating pumpkin pie until Thanksgiving and Christmas, so my mom would prepare the flesh of the pumpkin and store it in freezer bags until it was time for pie-making.
This same approach can apply to many summer garden staples—green beans, corn, zucchini, and other crops. The more you harvest now, the more you can store in the freezer for later use throughout the year.
Some produce is notorious for changing texture upon thawing, but pesto saves the day by blending it up anyway. Those fresh garden flavors remain, and there’s zero waste. Back to the pumpkin example: I use homegrown pumpkin puree that’s been frozen to make apumpkin pesto. Skip the canned stuff, and discover how this old gourd plays an essential role in food history.
Jessica Paholsky, founder of Once Upon a Pesto, is a creative storytelling professional who loves developing recipes and sharing her travel passion with others. Her mission through Once Upon a Pesto is to combine food history, global cultures, and authentic recipes to raise awareness that pesto is a process and fun for all ages and palates.
I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), offering guidance to high achievers in aligning their lifestyle with well-being through daily wellness and self-care routines, promoting balance and harmony. Join me at Wellness Bum for tips on living well, and consider subscribing to my newsletter or booking a coaching session.