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A taste of pesto for sunny-day flavor

Once summer hits its stride, I'm keenly aware that the fruits and vegetables we wait all year to enjoy are short-term treasures.

So it's always a race against the clock to satisfy my flavor hankerings before I'm back in the produce aisle, gazing dejectedly at imported tomatoes, road-weary corn and stratospheric-priced basil.

Which is where pesto — my favorite summer extender — comes in. As long as I have supplies of it lurking in my freezer, I'm able to give my winter meals a dose of sunny-day flavor.

Indeed, those early Italians from the great seaport of Genoa were a canny lot. When they first merged fresh and vibrantly flavored leaves of basil with a bit of olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan and Pecorino Romano cheeses, they were capturing the essence of their favorite culinary herb for long-term enjoyment.

Traditionally, pesto's favorite applications are three: as a floating green island on the surface of a hearty minestrone, on pasta and on potato gnocchi. But in practice, it can appear in a far wider range of dishes.

In our household, the recommended ways with pesto are many:

  • Add a tablespoon or two of pesto to purchased or homemade tomato sauce.
  • Smear on homemade pizzas.
  • Swirl some pesto on bread with a bit of mayonnaise and make a sandwich using cold, roasted chicken, turkey or ham, adding lettuce and tomato if you like.
  • Spread pesto under the skin of chicken before roasting or combine it with chicken broth or a mild vinaigrette and serve over steamed vegetables.
  • Alternate sliced tomatoes and fresh, young mozzarella on a platter then add a drizzling of balsamic vinegar and small dollops of pesto.
  • Swirl a bit of pesto into a fruity olive oil and serve as a dipping sauce for bread chunks
  • Spread on halved Walla Walla Sweet onions and broil.
  • Toss with freshly cooked pasta (duh!).
  • Combine with chunks of grilled chicken breast, diced tomatoes and chopped green onion for a quick salad or pocket-bread filling.
  • Combine with shredded cheese, spread on a split and toasted loaf of French bread and broil.
  • Slice tomatoes paper-thin and place on an earthy, firm-textured slice of bread that you've slathered with a mayonnaise-pesto blend; add some thin slices of sweet onion and top with another slice of bread that you've coated with some more of the mayonnaise mixture.

In case you haven't fine-tuned your own pesto recipe over the years, I'm providing mine. But don't stop there. Pesto is definitely one of those forgiving dishes that stand up to a cook's creativity. Goose the garlic. Scale back the pecorino. Make this sauce your own.

Just make plenty of it, so simple tastes of August can be frozen in time.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist.