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Less Fattening Pesto Sauce?

I have a ton of fresh basil. Any ideas for a sauce that isn't quite as fattening as pesto? I'd like to serve it with grilled scallops. Thank you.

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  1. What is it in pesto that is too fattening? If it is the olive oil, what would use instead of one the healthiest oils? Off the wall I would suggest low fat yogurt if you do not worry about being concerned that it is not typically Italian. Pine nuts are now so expensive that companies which produce commercial (store bought) pesto are substituting walnuts.

    23 Replies
    1. re: ChiliDude

      I wonder if you could do a pesto that was just a scant few drops of oil plus a bit of water, if the olive oil is indeed the problem? I'm thinking of course texture would suffer (as would flavor) but maybe the OP is used to such sacrifices if the amount of olive oil ingested (from what is typically a small serving) is enough to cause concern.

      FWIW, pesto should be about 80 calories per tablespoon according to fitday.com

      In other news, ever since the pinenut mouth scare I tend to use whatever nut sounds good at the time, alternating between walnuts and pecans.

      1. re: shanagain

        I had pinenut mouth and it was awful! I haven't bought them since.

        1. re: DaisyM

          don't buy the chinese pine nuts.

          1. re: alkapal

            Is it just the Chinese pinenuts? I have some non-Chinese ones, but am afraid to use them. Are all others safe?

            1. re: Isolda

              the reports and threads on this have identified the chinese ones as the culprits.

          2. re: DaisyM

            me too! I had it for two weeks. Everything that I ate tasted bitter. For folks who love the taste of food it was AWFUL!!

            I have not tried pine nuts since. I am so worried that now that I have had it once I may have it again..........

            1. re: rjlebed

              I had never even heard of "pine mouth" until this happened to me. I haven't eaten any since.

              1. re: DaisyM

                Well, I had the very same experience. I was actually relieved to find out I could attribute it to the pine nuts. I was worried that I was sick....... Whew!!

                1. re: DaisyM

                  WTF? I have also never heard of pine nut mouth!!! I am going to do some searching now...freaky.

          3. re: ChiliDude

            Uh any kind of oil is equally fatty (100% fat). Some oils may have different balances of types of fats, but overall, mechanically extracted olive oil is probably one of the "healthiest" oils. Reducing the oil / nut content will probably reduce pesto's fat content somewhat (and reducing or eliminating the cheese, if you use it), but I wouldn't worry about the amount of fat in pesto to start with.

            You could also make a basil nage of some sort, and drizzle it over / around.

            1. re: will47

              I agree. You can make a simple basil sauce (not technically a pesto, of course) with a small amount of oil, lots of basil and a touch of salt - no nuts or Parmesan to suck up more of the oil.

              1. re: chefathome

                I found a recipe for pesto using chicken broth instead of olive oil. I ended up using just a teaspoon of olive oil and chicken broth, along with walnuts and parm. It was really good and very light. Just a dab on the grilled scallops.

                1. re: DaisyM

                  "Just a dab on the grilled scallops."

                  If all you used was a dab, may I ask why you needed a less fattening pesto sauce?

                  1. re: ttoommyy

                    i was sort of wondering that as well, particularly since the scallops themselves are virtually fat-free.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Dealing with some family health issues.

                      1. re: DaisyM

                        gotcha. well i won't pull us too far off-topic here, but i can't think of a health "issue" in which one would benefit from eating aged cheese and nuts but not olive oil. anyway, i'm just glad you worked it out and got tasty results :)

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          I'm trying to reduce the fat and salt in recipes for health reasons while still making them delicious. So, low sodium chicken broth plus less oil, parm cheese and walnuts. Not going crazy with this...but the little changes to recipes are really working.

                          And I really appreciate everyone who gives me help. I always feel like I've got these generous souls hovering around me. Nice feeling.

                          1. re: DaisyM

                            ah, if sodium is a concern, definitely watch the cheese...lotta salt lurking in there! as Emme suggested, try replacing part or all of it with nutritional yeast - you'll get some of that umami flavor without the salt & fat.

                            1. re: DaisyM

                              We're not on a special diet or anything, but I've found that chicken broth can cut some of the bitterness of basil in a way that olive oil can't. Sometimes intense basil can be bitter, at least to me.

                            1. re: DaisyM

                              As mentioned in previous posts, olive oil is nearly 100% good fat. Almost all of the fat is very healthy and nutritious with the exception of maybe 2 grams per tablespoon. It's actually probably more heart healthy to stick with olive oil than chicken broth because the broth likely carries a good amount of sodium. I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but eliminating olive oil usually doesn't result in better health. Hope this helps.

                              1. re: tzanghi

                                I use low sodium chicken broth.

                2. Every time I have tried to make a pesto with water, yogurt, whatever I try instead of full olive oil I find that I am disappointed in the dish and eventually have to have it the full fat way. So now I just use less and have it less frequently but when I do there is no skimping.

                  1. You get a different result, but in a quest like yours, I have replaced most of the oil with artichoke hearts. You end up with an artichoke/basil pesto-y thing that is actually quite good, and would be great with scallops.

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: katecm

                        I do the same as katecm, but use frozen green peas instead of artichoke hearts. Just boil until thawed and bright green, then strain and dump right into the food processor with the basil. Sometimes I include the parmesan and nuts (again, sometimes the traditional pine nuts, but I've also had success with walnuts and pistacchios), other times it's just peas and basil. Depending on what consistency you're looking for, I thin kmine with chicken broth or water from the peas.

                        It's by no means authentic pesto, obviously, but I love the texture and the mild, sweet flavor of the peas paired with the bright flavor of the basil. I usually make a big batch and then freeze it to use again in the depths of winter for a quick hit of summer.

                      2. I use hummus as a pesto base. The texture is a little different but you'll become accustomed to it. I also use hummus instead of mayo in tuna salads.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: shecrab

                          That would have been my suggestion, though I have never tried it.....cooked beans of some sort in place of most of the oil.

                        2. If it's the cheese rather than the oil that's put you off, a really nice herby sauce is to blend/process together basil and mint (lots of both) and a bit of fresh thyme, marjoram, oregano etc to taste and smoothen out with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. No pine nuts (or other nuts). I like it drizzled over tomatoes but I'm sure a basil and mint only version would go well with scallops (based on the amount of recipes I've seen pairing mint and scallops, I've never actually eaten them! Maybe this will be the summer I fix that)

                          1. Just make it without the nuts and cheese (or with reduced amounts) and replace some of the olive oil with water. it's still good. You could add some vinegar and chili flakes and call it basil chimmichurri.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: danna

                              Regarding both of the previous two posts, making it without the cheese is also supposed to make it freeze better. You can then mix in the cheese after defrosting (or not); this is also handy if you have vegans or people who don't eat dairy around - serve the pesto without cheese, and then put grated cheese on the table for people to add themselves.

                              My folks like using sunflower seeds; personally, I prefer pine nuts.

                            2. It would certainly not be traditional, but if you add tomatoes to the pest you can use less oil. Saw this recommended on a food blog (perhaps, In My Kitchen Garden, or her sister site) and thought it was quite good when I tried it.

                              1. Well, are you aware that the sauce is *supposed* to be thinned with the pasta cooking water? (To enhance the emulsion, boil the pasta in less water; that will increase the proportion of free starch in the water).

                                When the pasta is nearly done, reserve a cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta in a colander over a large mixing bowl (to use the water to scald the bowl and warm it up - pasta with pesto should never be served on a tepid service - it congeals). Wipe the bowl off a bit, and then put the pesto with some of the cooking water in the bowl and whisk to emulsify. Then add the pasta and toss. Serve on warmed dishes (scalding water is fastest).

                                You will use less pesto this way, but more authentically. That should solve the problem with no distortion....

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Karl S

                                  Many years ago, I frequented a restaurant that finished it's pesto with some heavy cream - not traditional but delicious. I started making pesto that way and when I started to watch fat and calories more closely, I switched to evap. skimmed milk. Give that a try.

                                2. I would go with an Asian style basil sauce for your scallops. Sauteed garlic, chopped basil.

                                  1. I also suggest trying a chimichurri sauce with basil instead of parsley. It has no cheese or nuts. Then just add as much olive oil as you want. The olive oil is actually good for you, and a little pesto goes a long way, but a chimichurri sauce offers intense flavor with less fat calories if that's what you really want.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: audreyhtx1

                                      I do my chimichurri with cilantro instead of parsley sometimes, or half & half of each. Delicious. Altho' I throw a little Parm on that, too.

                                    2. I think your Thread topic is, "I have lots of fresh Basil. What sauces can I make besides Pesto?
                                      In the thread body you can mention you want to serve with grilled scallops. And low fat would be great.

                                      But honest, a "ton" of fresh basil and you only have one dish you wish to serve that with?

                                      But for an answer, maybe a citrus basil vinaigrette?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Quine

                                        I'm growing basil, so there will be a lot all summer.

                                      2. I have used Oprah's pesto recipe.
                                        1 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
                                        2 cloves garlic -- (more if desired)
                                        1/4 cup pine nuts
                                        1/4 cup parmesan --grated
                                        1/4 cup lemon juice
                                        Put the basil, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese is a blender or processor. Turn the machine on and drizzle in the lemon juice. Continue to puree until a smooth paste is formed. Per 1/2 tb: Cal 14; Fat 1.1 grams; 70% from fat

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: wolfe

                                          Lemon juice instead of olive oil makes me want to cry.

                                          1. re: sushigirlie

                                            I already am crying. Oprah forgoes the olive oil and she's still overweight? Guess eliminating olive oil isn't the answer Oprah.

                                            1. re: sushigirlie

                                              The processing of the parmesan cheese is what bothers me. That just sounds like a gummy, grainy mess. I prefer to add freshly grated cheese once the pesto is blended.

                                              1. re: ChristinaMason

                                                The best way to assure a smooth addition of a hard grated cheese is to make sure it is very finely grated, and then add some very starchy hot pasta cooking water to it to melt it. You will get a much creamier result, and probably need less cheese....

                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                  I assume you mean one should add the pasta cooking water to the pasta which has already been tossed with the pesto?

                                                  1. re: ChristinaMason

                                                    Keep the cheese out of that lemony pesto if you want to avoid gummy, lumpy cheese.

                                                    Starchy pasta cooking water (take a small cup when then pasta is nearly done cooking) can be used in two ways:

                                                    1. To melt the cheese on its own (you don't need much if the cheese is grated finely enough), which is added to the cooked pasta (you can do this, of course, for any pasta dish where you want to avoid lumpy cheese)

                                                    2. To dilute and emulsify the pesto (you can do that by whisking them together).

                                                    1. re: ChristinaMason

                                                      I put the pesto in the serving bowl and then take some water out of the cooking pasta pot and swirl that to turn the pesto into a sauce this melting the cheese and avoiding the lumps that can occur in pesto...it also means you don't need so much oil to "thin it out." Just had it a few nights ago--with mint, basil and parsley--and it was wonderful

                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                        I only learned to do this a year or two ago and it has really transformed my pesto.

                                            2. everyone has already weighed in with very helpful thoughts, and disclaimers. knowing texture might be a little different, sub some oil with veggie broth (or other if you prefer, i just don't like competing flavors), mashed heavily roasted garlic, skip the nuts, and replace the parmesan cheese with nutritional yeast. just my $.10.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Emme

                                                I use roasted garlic and water instead of the oil and it's definitely tasty, if a little unorthodox. I use both nuts and cheese, but in very small quantities. I feel like it adds a lot of flavour even if you don't use much.

                                                1. re: Emme

                                                  Let's see:
                                                  veggie broth
                                                  mashed roasted garlic
                                                  no nuts
                                                  nutritional yeast

                                                  and this somehow is called pesto?

                                                2. If the pesto is to adorn the entree, don't skimp on the quality of the ingredients, especially the olive oil and imported cheese. Skip the accompanied starch or even the veg if necessary. I generally use walnuts as pinenuts are quite pricey.

                                                  1. You can add in some balsamic vinegar. It's not traditional pesto, but it adds a nice acidity and a lot of flavor. I often do 2 parts olive oil to one part balsamic, but you could do more or less to taste.

                                                    1. if i were doing a light basil sauce, i'd use reduced sodium and fat free chicken stock and reduce it substantially on the stove with some garlic cloves steeping in it. then i'd whir some basil leaves in the blender with the reduced broth, adding a bit of parmesan cheese for umami. you can choose to add a touch of evoo then, if you wish. i think a splash of fresh lemon juice might help. of course this ain't pesto by any stretch, but it should have a nice basil-forward signature flavor good for summer dishes, and saucing fish. it'd also be good on sliced rare-ish beef - in a twist on thai ( with a squirt of lime juice and s splash of fish sauce).

                                                      1. What about subbing some fat free half-and-half for most of the oil? You'd end up with a "creamy" basil sauce, which wouldn't be terrible. I mean, it's nowhere near as good as full fat cream or olive oil, but it would probably work well for your purposes.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: ChristinaMason

                                                          Olive oil is way better to eat then the chemicals called fat free half and half. As is real half and half.

                                                          1. re: magiesmom

                                                            The OP is primarily concerned with cutting fat, it seems.

                                                        2. Why mess with it at all? I don't see where pesto is a fattening food. With it's potentially intense flavors (depending on amounts of garlic and cheese used in the making of it) you really don't want to inundate your pasta (or in this case, your scallops) with it anyway.
                                                          Why not just cut the fats somewhere else if you need to, and enjoy pesto as it should be. Some foods don't lend themselves well to "lightening up".

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: The Professor

                                                            @Professor, I eat pesto slathered on bread. The more, the better!

                                                          2. I have replaced some of the oil with white wine vinegar in pesto when I was watching my calorie intake and I thought it tasted great.

                                                            1. 49 replies and not one person has mentioned the heresy of cheese on seafood? ;)

                                                              when i get armloads of basil from our csa, i just whizz it with a wee bit of olive oil and lemon juice. portion it out, and freeze them, so i can have it even in deepest winter.

                                                              i no longer like the raw garlic in pesto and frequently don't want a strong cheese flavor battling the basil.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                cheese on FISH is the heresy in italian food.

                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                  So I'm told...but heresy be damned: I still love my linguini (or buccatini) and white clam sauce with a sprinkling of pecorino romano.

                                                                  1. re: The Professor

                                                                    go with what you like. those clams can take it! LOL