Money-Saving Tips: Cheapo Pesto

We've got some some genius ingredient swaps that won't sacrifice flavor.

Janice Lieberman swaps out expensive ingredients to make a Cheapo Pesto, as seen on Food Network's The Kitchen

It's hard to beat delicious traditional pesto, especially when it's homemade. But the classic pesto ingredients can be a little on the pricy side. Never fear, The Kitchen is here to give you some genius ingredient swaps that won't sacrifice flavor.

One of the key ingredients in traditional pesto is good Parmigiano-Reggiano. Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be made in a few specific provinces in Italy—Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua. To qualify for the "Parmigiano-Reggiano" designation, producers must adhere to very specific methods. The cheese is crafted from cow's milk and aged, then shipped out all over the world. Parmigiano-Reggiano has a rich depth of flavor and crumbly texture that can only be found in the real thing. But since it is made under such strict guidelines and imported, it can run you at least $15 per pound.

So what do we do? Try American Parmesan instead! There are a ton of great producers in the US that make a version of this nutty cheese using similar methods. The flavor of domestic Parmesan may not be as robust as its Italian cousin, but when combined with all of those other pesto ingredients, it won't be missed. At about $10 per pound, you can still get a fantastic texture and taste.

The next element in pesto is pine nuts. Because of the labor required to harvest them, these little nuts can set you back as much as $12 for a 6-ounce bag. We suggest using walnuts instead. Walnuts add a similar toasty flavor to pesto, at a much lower price—a 6-ounce bag is only about $5. That’s a savings of 7 bucks!

You can't have pesto without basil, right? Wrong! Typical pesto recipes call for a lot of basil, about two bunches. But basil doesn't have a very long shelf life, which means that two bunches from the grocery store can run you about $6 and still not contribute very much flavor to the pesto. How to get around it? Try using frozen peas instead. Frozen peas add sweetness, creamy texture and an appealing bright color to the pesto. Peas from the freezer section are flash frozen at the peak of freshness and flavor. One bag of peas can cost as little as $1—for a savings of at least $5 when compared to using fresh basil. Pea pesto can be used on pasta, over chicken or smeared on crostini for an easy app. We think Cheapo Pesto is perfect anytime!

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