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NC State Extension

Pesto Possibilities

Activity Name: Pesto Possibilities

Contributed by Nicole Accordino

Cooking with ingredients fresh from the garden allows for a stronger connection to the work performed in the garden. Access to fresh produce cared for by one’s own hands is satisfying on mental, physical and emotional levels. The act of cooking is cooperative by nature and following recipes with multi step directions strengthens cognitive abilities.


Check in with clients about food allergies, especially to nuts

Target Population

Any individual or group, ages 5-adult, with an interest in cooking and eating.

Activity Treatment Goals

The following treatment goals could be addressed by participants performing this activity:

  • Follow step-by-step instructions
  • Practice sharing and cooperation
  • Provide nutritious food options that counter obesity and can be replicated at home-physical goal promoting healthy
  • Learning about food nutrition cooking- cognitive
  • Stimulate the senses with color, smells, and textures
  • Increase fine and gross motor skills
  • Provide an opportunity for social interaction

Completion Time

Harvesting and Preparation of pesto could take up to an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the dish the pesto accompanies. Example: If adding pesto to pasta- cook pasta ahead of time or allow time to cook. If adding pesto to raw squash, allow time for squash prep.

Materials Needed

  • Harvest Baskets/Containers
  • Sink- clean water source for washing
  • Scissors
  • Colander
  • Food processor
  • Bowl
  • Cutting boards
  • Knives for cutting produce
  • Pesto Ingredients (see recipe below)
  • Plates, serving bowl and spoon

Pre-session Preparation

  • Gather materials and get cooking space clean and ready to use
  • Pre-cook dish pesto will accompany if resources are not available to cook with participants. (Ideas: pasta, shaved raw squash- see raw squash salad recipe below, bread, dipping for raw vegetables, tomato pesto sandwiches.)
  • Divide jobs up ahead of time so each participant can be offered a specific job. Jobs can be switched –
    1. washing produce
    2. Peeling garlic
    3. Chopping basil and garlic
    4. Measuring oil, lemon juice, seeds, and cheese.

Placement of Tools and Materials

Keep a separate area for washing space of vegetables. Be sure workspace is clean. It is easier if the workspace is accessible on all side to assure maximum participation. Lay out cutting boards, food processor and knives ahead of time.

Step-by Step Instructions

  1. Engage participants in harvesting of ingredients – specify quantities and discuss quantities. If hot outside, consider processing in the shade.
  2. Bring ingredients inside and allow participants to take on the jobs described above. Engage participants in as much prep work as possible
  3. Following recipe below, place all ingredients in food processor and grind until smooth.
  4. While some participants are grinding pesto, offer opportunity for others to set the table.
  5. Remove pesto from processor and enjoy in the various ways offered above.
  6. If participants are assisting in the preparation of the squash salad, cooking pesto or slicing bread allow time for this before or during pesto preparation.
  7. Enjoy pesto dish sitting around table, begin eating at the same time and on real plates – honoring the hard work the participants have performed and creating a celebratory atmosphere

Modifications and Adaptations

Depending on the population involved, you can talk about the medicinal qualities and history of the basil, garlic and olive oil. See attachment.

  • Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of participants and direct jobs that embrace or challenge them depending on individual goals and mood on that specific day.

Enrichment Opportunities

  • Discuss different meanings and properties of ingredients
  • Discuss health benefits of eating locally, fresh and in season.
  • Adapt the recipe to fit the herbs in season and discuss the adaptability of this recipe emphasizing that you can use the ingredients that you have and don’t have to spend lots of money
  • Offer the fresh ingredients and a recipe print out for participants to take home and encourage them to try it.

Performance Areas

  • Health/Wellness- consuming healthy, fresh food that can be duplicated at home and long term counter obesity
  • Exercise increased while performing plant care and harvesting.
  • Education – Learning about using recipes and understanding seasonal eating.
  • Socialization/Emotional – Watching a plant grow through the seasonal and enjoying the benefits of hard work through eating and sharing. Reminiscing about past food experiences. Following step-by-step instructions, sharing, and cooperation can be addressed during this activity.
  • Rehabilitation – Hand/eye coordination, memory, and fine motor skills are used.

Pesto of Possibilities


  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves (from about 3 large bunches), depending on season basil can be substituted with arugula, cilantro, mustards, parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup nuts or seeds (any kind!)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated hard cheese such as Parmesan, Pecorino, Sardo (really any cheese will do, even cheddar)
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt


  1. Combine first 4 ingredients in blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add both cheeses and salt; blend until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Top with 1/2 inch olive oil and chill.)
  2. Possible additions: chives, chilies, parsley
  3. Pesto can accompany this

Raw Summer Squash Salad


  • 4 small to medium sized yellow squash/zucchini
  • 1 medium chili, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup of fresh chopped basil
  • Tomatoes – handful of cherry quartered or 1 whole diced
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Olive oil (extra virgin)


  1. Using a vegetable peeler, shave both the green and yellow squash into a medium bowl. Once all the summer squash is shaved nicely into the bowl, add the chopped chili, chopped basil and salt & pepper. Toss well. Add equal parts of both fresh squeezed lemon juice and olive oil, then toss again. If the dressing tastes too lemony for you, just add more olive oil to the salad.
  2. Once the salad is tossed together well, you can serve this tasty fresh summer side dish with any vegetarian meal, grilled meal, or any fish dish.

Written By

Lucy Bradley, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDr. Lucy BradleyUrban Horticulture Professor and Extension Specialist Call Dr. Lucy Email Dr. Lucy Horticultural Science
NC State Extension, NC State University
Page Last Updated: 6 months ago
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