Oh, how I love this pesto recipe. It’s so simple, and so delicious, and so versatile, and so pretty to look at. The peppery basil, zesty garlic, nutty undertones and the fresh grated parmesan are a magic combination. Most people associate pesto with pasta, which is delicious, but we also love it on sandwiches and panini, grilled chicken, steak and salmon. This particular recipe is the result of little last minute improvisation, and it turned out to be fantastic.
It all happened a few years ago, when my book group read Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. It’s a really great book, written by the former editor of a major food publication. Peppered throughout the story are some of her real life recipes. For book group night, I was asked to prepare a recipe from the book and share it. The pesto seemed like a safe bet–straightforward, non-threatening and no actual cooking involved. I needed a low margin for error.
Ruth’s original recipe called for pine nuts, as most traditional pestos do. I was oddly unable to find pine nuts at my local grocery store when I needed them, so I grabbed walnuts instead and crossed my fingers. A quick google search reassured me that just about any nut works safely. I went for it.
Suffice it to say, it was amazing. And now it’s the only way I make pesto. Don’t get me wrong, traditional pesto (and the original recipe I worked from) is wonderful. But, the walnuts added a different depth of flavor, even a richness that pine nuts don’t. Friends at book group raved about it, even my little boys love it.
Since fresh cut basil doesn’t keep long, I like to make a large batch and store it in my fridge or freezer. To prevent the pesto from browning once it’s been opened (like guacamole or apples), give it a quick blanch and drain well prior to blending. This will lock in that lovely bright green color. For smaller batches, or to store leftovers in the fridge, simply add a layer of olive oil over the top before sealing the container. Also, be sure to only use freshly grated parmesan cheese–none of that finely powdered shakeable stuff.
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 3 Tbsp. walnuts-chopped
- ½ cup good olive oil
- 1 tsp. Salt
- ¾ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- ½ cup fresh, grated parmesan cheese
- Quickly blanch the basil in a pot of boiling water--for 15 seconds or so--using a mesh strainer to transfer to an ice bath. Drain thoroughly. This step is optional, well suited to longer term storage.
- In a food processor or blender, combine basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Process or blend until well mixed and finely chopped.
- Add cheese and blend well.
- Transfer to storage container(s) and add a thin layer of olive oil over the top. Seal tightly, and keep in refrigerator or freezer. To serve with pasta, you may like to add a bit of butter and a bit of pasta cooking water into the pesto first.
It’s so easy to make! My children love helping with this because they get to use the food processor–very exciting. Spread it on chicken or steak the last part of grilling, add it to seafood, use it as a spread on sandwiches, a dip for bread, as an addition to scrambled or deviled eggs, even garnish your favorite tomato soup with a dollop. And of course, toss it with pasta and a bit of sweet butter. To thin it out, just add some reserved pasta cooking water. Enjoy!