This super simple 4-ingredient Italian Mint Pesto recipe is a delicious fresh condiment that can be served as an appetizer with cheese, used as a dipping sauce for bread, a great pasta saucedrizzled on chicken, salmon, shrimp, pork, and a zillion other things!
If you haven't been keeping up with us, Scott and I are hanging out right now in the French Alps (near Chamonix) where' we've rented a small flat for two weeks. We're learning the local culture, a wee bit of French and have already had some amazing experiences which had inspired me in a culinary sense. We're super close to the Italian border so earlier this week Scott and I spent a day in Italy at the lovely home of Franca, a charming Italian Cesarina (cooking instructor) who served us a delicious 5-course lunch. This Italian Mint Pesto was one of the highlights of the meal!
You can read all about our day in Italy with Franca and her husband Marcello in this post, but today I'm sharing Franca's delicious Italian Mint Pesto.
You might be surprised that this condiment is called pesto, as the ingredients are much simpler than classic basil pesto. But since Franca called it "pesto" and she's 100% pure Italian, I'm following suit!
Franca served the mint pesto drizzled over soft Italian cheese as an appetizer course with Proscuitto, nuts and preserved cherries. It was a beautiful plate and everything was delicious, but I was quite taken with the pretty green pesto. When I asked Franca, "What is this?", she said, "menta". I thought perhaps that was the Italian word for basil and asked, "basil?". She replied, "No, menta!" I was starting to get it. "Mint?" Her eyes revealed that I was correct before she replied, "Yes, mint!"
That was a huge surprise to me, as the pesto did not taste "minty" as I would expect mint pesto to taste. I just knew it had a wonderful flavor and, when Franca brought a small jar of it from the kitchen, I started drizzling it on everything!
Before we left that afternoon to travel back to France, Franca cut some fresh mint from her little courtyard garden and prepared the wonderful mint pesto so we could see just how easy it is. It took her about 5 minutes and I took lots of notes in my mind, as well as some pics and a video on my phone.
There are only four ingredients in this mint pesto: mint, olive oil, salt and pepper. That's it, but it's definitely one of those recipes where the sum is way more than the parts.
On the way home, we stopped and purchased a big bunch of mint and I've been playing around with the recipe for the past few days. After experimenting, I did add one little extra step to Franca's recipe. I found that my finished pesto was a little dark in color and, being the "eat with your eyes" chef that I am, I decided to quickly blanch the mint leaves before chopping which helps retain the vibrant, beautiful color.
Blanching also eliminates having to wash and dry the mint leaves before chopping, so it really doesn't add any extra time. Another benefit to blanching, according to Science Direct is that it "inactivates enzymes that would otherwise cause deterioration in flavor, texture, color and nutrients during storage". In other words, the pesto will keep its beautiful color and last longer; a win-win!
How do you blanch mint?
So easy! Simply bring a medium size potful of water to boil. Add the mint leaves and set a timer for 40 seconds. Drain the blanched leaves and run them under nice cold water to stop the cooking process. Then you'll need to remove as much excess water as possible. I just squeeze the mint in my hands, then place it in a clean dish towel and roll it up to press out any extra water.
What to do with mint pesto?
- It's fabulous with both hard and soft cheeses and a fabulous savory condiment for a charcuterie board.
- Mint pesto makes a super delicious dipping oil for crusty Italian or French bread.
- Franca said that she uses it as a sauce for pasta.
- Since we've been back in France, I've combined it with just a splash of white wine vinegar and served it as a delicious salad dressing.
- It would be great drizzled on chicken, shrimp, pork, salmon... A reader mentioned that it sounded like it would be great with lamb. Yes, it would!
- If you've got some nice ripe tomatoes this mint pesto is a perfect pairing. Top it off with a sprinkle of shaved parmesan or add some pearls of fresh mozzarella and a few sprigs of pretty mint or fresh basil leaves and voila! A super summery, super flavorful salad!
- Use it as the base for a pizza... delish!
- Combine it with soft cheese, like goat or cream cheese and make a delicious dip for fresh veggies.
- Stir a few spoonfuls into mashed potatoes.
- Add a generous splash to your couscous or quinoa for a pretty and delicious variation.
- Drizzle it over roasted veggies, delish!
After the photoshoot today, Scott and I enjoyed this charcuterie board for lunch. It's crazy how the most everyday ingredients, purchased at our little local grocery store here in France are deliciously gourmet. The sausage was amazing, the goat cheese so creamy and mellow, the fruits at their prime... And don't even get me going on the olives, oh my! The olives here are like nothing I've ever tasted before. So meaty and infused with herbs and other fabulous flavors.
But the pesto once again was the highlight. Scott had purchased a fresh baguette this morning at our local bakery (just a stone's throw from our little flat). We tore off pieces and smeared it with the delicious goat cheese/pesto, SO GOOD! Try it, whether your serving it with crackers or authentic French baguettes, I know you're going to love it - and your family, friends, guests will be asking "What is this?". You can smile, put on your best Italian accent and say, "pesto di menta".
Cafe Tips for making this Italian Mint Pesto
- You'll need 3 cups of mint leaves for this Minto Pesto. That's right around two ounces of mint sprigs. The recipe yields right around ¾ cup of pesto. Feel free to cut the recipe in half, if desired.
- Don't be surprised at how much the mint will shrink up after being blanched. 3 cups will turn into a tiny handful, but don't worry, that's the way it's supposed to be!
- The easiest way to remove mint leaves is to place your fingers right below the tiny cluster of leaves on the top and run your fingers down the woody stalk. Then pinch off the top cluster or save these pretty sprigs for garnishes. If you cut the stalk at the bottom and place these pretty sprigs in a glass of water, they will keep well for days.
- The finer you chop the mint, the better the finished pesto will be. I use a large, sharp knife with a curved edge and just keep chopping until it's super fine.
- As seen in the pictures above, Franca uses a mezzaluna which is an amazing, super versatile kitchen tool that makes quick work out of chopping herbs.
- What is a mezzaluna? Named after the Italian word for "half-moon," mezzalunas have curved blades that are designed to rock back and forth in a quick chopping motion without putting your fingers at risk. In addition to being used to mince a lot of herbs quickly, you can also use a mezzaluna for mincing garlic, hard cheeses, vegetables, etc. You can also use it for a pizza slicer. I actually looked for one here in France, but we're in a fairly remote area without any large kitchen or home stores. I've ordered one that will be waiting for me when I return home!
- See the tips above in the post for all the ways to use this Mint Pesto. I'm sure you'll come up with more ideas!
- Use a good quality olive oil for this recipe. For reasonably priced olive oils, I really like Costco's Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Colavita Premium Italian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil (often available at Costco).
- This mint pesto will keep well in the refrigerator for a week to 10 days. It will have a thicker consistency when cold as the olive oil will congeal. Bring it to room temperature before serving. It will thin out nicely.
Thought for the day:
For the Son of Man
has come to seek
and to save
that which was lost.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations and ideas for variations.
This super simple 4-ingredient Italian Mint Pesto recipe is a delicious fresh condiment that can be served as an appetizer with cheese, used as a dipping sauce for bread, drizzled on chicken, salmon, shrimp, pork and a zillion other things!
- 3 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil maybe a bit more
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Bring a medium-size pot of water to a boil. Add the mint leaves and set a timer for 40 seconds. After 40 seconds, drain in a large strainer and rinse well with cold tap water. Allow the mint to drain in the strainer then grab it with your hand and squeeze out as much water as you can.
Now transfer the mint to a clean dish towel and pull it apart so it’s not one big clump. Roll the mint in the dish towel to remove any last bits of water.
Place the blanched mint on a cutting board and, using a large, sharp chef’s knife or a mezzaluna (see notes in the post) chop, chop, chop. You want the mint very finely chopped. When you think it’s finely chopped, chop it a little more. (Take a break if you need to, to give your wrist a chance to rest!)
Transfer the chopped mint leaves to a medium-small bowl. Add ½ cup of olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir well to combine. Add more oil, if needed, to reach desired consistency. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Will keep well for a week to 10 days.
See Café Tips above in the post for more details instructions and tips to ensure success.