For A Spicier Take On Pesto, Make Jalapeño The Star

Originated in Italy, pesto has captured hearts (and taste buds) worldwide with its uniquely bright, herbaceous taste and slightly nutty, garlicky undertone. This distinct flavor comes from a mixture of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Over the years, however, there have been many variations of this ingredient list — all of which bring different flavor nuances that further solidify this sauce's spot in the kitchen. For those who love spicy food, adding jalapeño is the simple but foolproof tweak that might just make this culinary classic a lot more intriguing.

Jalapeño is, of course, most well-known for its peppery, spicy kick. When added to pesto, it infuses the sauce with a bold, fiery heat that has the palate sparkling with excitement. This, however, doesn't mean that the remaining flavor notes are overpowered. Jalapeño's spice level usually ranges from mild to moderate, so you'll still be able to taste the original pesto vibrancy once the heat has settled in. In fact, the chili is incredibly complementary to the sauce, with subtly sweet and grassy notes that give it a much more diverse and well-rounded flavor profile.

What to know when adding jalapeño to pesto

When adding jalapeño peppers to pesto, take your personal preference and spice tolerance into consideration. Their spice level depends mostly on the ripeness. Green ones, which are commonly used for pesto and various other dishes, are often harvested before they're fully ripe. They offer a pleasant heat that's just enough to kick things up a notch without setting your tongue on fire. On the other hand, red ones — especially those with white lines — tend to be quite intense, but also much sweeter. Many also like to give the chili a quick roast over an open flame to add a delectable smoky depth.

In pesto sauce, cilantro is jalapeño's trusted company. This dynamic duo imparts a spicy, fragrant flare that's tantalizingly beautiful and different without straying too far from pesto's original taste. Of course, if you don't like cilantro, there are plenty of other greens to choose from. You can stick to classic fresh basil, or switch it out with spinach for an exquisite earthy touch. Better yet, squeeze in some lemon juice to make a fusion of fresh, zesty, and vibrant flavors that would kill it when spread over grilled meat.

Finally, for those who like a bit of indulgence, a dollop or two of heavy cream, sour cream, or Greek yogurt should do the trick. This gives your jalapeño pesto a sweet, tangy taste that mellows out the heat's intensity, plus a perfectly luscious and smooth texture.