There’s something reassuring about having a container of pesto in the fridge at all times. Stir a dollop into a pot of noodles, and dinner’s on. Add a smidge to a bland soup or a naked piece of fish, and a boring dish suddenly becomes exciting. Mix with sour cream or mayo in a pretty bowl, surround with crudites or crackers, and start the party.
Just as classic French “mother sauces” such as bechamel and velouté serve as building blocks for a multitude of dishes, so does the garlicky green paste from Genoa. Leslie Lennox reminds us of this on every page of her first cookbook, “Pesto: The Modern Mother Sauce.”
A former fashion stylist in New York and Los Angeles, Lennox and her husband Dave are founders of Hope’s Gardens, an artisanal pesto company that began in the backyard greenhouse of the home they purchased in Atlanta in 1999. There they cultivated a thriving crop of basil, and became one of the first vendors to set up shop at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market when James Beard Award-winning chef Linton Hopkins (who wrote the preface) and his wife Gina opened it in 2007.
Now living in New York, Lennox shares her traditional basil-based formula as a blueprint for creating infinite flavor profiles to mix and match with her favorite recipes for health-conscious, everyday and entertainment cooking. A Thai-inspired cilantro and peanut pesto complements fried rice with chicken; a blend with mint, almonds and frozen green peas enlivens lamb kebabs; a tapenade-like version with olives and sun-dried tomatoes dresses up a grilled cheese sandwich. Her Caprese Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette was a hit at my book club, prompting a note to self to make a double-batch of her classic pesto to freeze for later.
She makes the case for doing so succinctly: “With pesto, everything just tastes better.”
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.