As you saw on Wednesday, our latest CSA share included two bags of basil. Two bags can be difficult to use up in a few days — fresh basil doesn’t keep all that well — if you’re only using it to season sauces, soups, and the like. What we do to use it is to make up a quick batch of pesto using whatever nuts we might have on hand, and then we use the pesto over the next couple of days.Now, we really got this idea from the book flour, too, by Joanne Chang. Somewhere in there, she told that, at flour, they make a pesto using toasted almonds instead of the traditional pine nuts. We’ve been using different nuts in place of the pine nuts for years, mainly walnuts, but we’ve not tried almonds. That is, until now.
Makes about 1 cup
Pesto is one of those things that’s quite variable in taste. Each time we make it, it’s a bit different from the last time. Sometimes more garlic, sometimes more cheese. And that’s a good thing; it makes having a dish with pesto seem like a brand-new dish. So, keep that in mind when you make up a batch. Don’t like almonds? Don’t use them. Love garlic? Use more. Have a bit of fresh rosemary that you think would be good? It probably would, so go ahead and add it. We’ve even changed out basil for other types of greens, such as arugula. Our only constant seems to be that we use good Parmesan cheese (no green cylinders in this house) and good extra-virgin olive oil. We might consider changing the cheese, as a pesto made with an addition of blue cheese actually sounds good, too.
Procedure in detail:
Wash and dry basil. We toss it all in a colander, rinse well, and then dry it in our high-tech salad spinner. You can pick up a salad spinner just like ours the next time you buy a bag of onions. It’s easy to clean, takes up little space, and doesn’t require electricity to use. We just put our basil in the mesh bag, walk out back, and give it a few good swings. Presto, dry basil. Remove the stems from the basil and discard.
Toast almonds. All nuts taste better toasted, so really, go through the step of popping them in a small skillet and toasting them on the stove for 7 to 10 minutes. Just make sure to watch and stir them around. Burnt nuts aren’t as good.
Peel and slice garlic. We like to slice the garlic in very thin slices before using. That helps avoid the stray chunk of raw garlic in the middle of a pesto bite. If you like those sharps bites of garlic, feel free to change yours up; after all, you’ll be eating it.
Chop. Mound up the basil leaves, place the garlic on top so you’re sure to chop through them a bunch of times, place the almonds right near, and chop. And chop. And chop. With a sharp knife, this really only takes a few minutes. We think it’s faster overall to do this and only have a knife to clean, than it is to break out the food processor. Plus, we like the larger pieces of nuts and basil. Once chopped, transfer to a bowl.
Add cheese and olive oil. We gave measurements above, but we don’t really follow them, other than approximately. We scoop in a handful of cheese, pour on some olive oil, stir, and add more if needed. We tend to add enough oil so that all the basil is well-coated, but not so much that you have a puddle of oil.
Taste and season. Taste the pesto and add salt and pepper if needed. While pesto is good pretty much immediately after being made, we sometimes think it’s even better after it has sat in the fridge for a few hours, giving time for the flavors to meld and soften.
Serve. So, how do you serve up pesto? Well, we like to have it for a quick lunch, one for which we make up a batch of pasta and just stir in about a tablespoon or two of pesto. It’s quick and easy, and filling enough for any meal. We’ll also spread it on sandwiches, like grilled cheese, for that extra flavor boost.
We haven’t used almonds in pesto before, and, while they were good, and a bit different, they really didn’t have as much flavor as walnuts or pine nuts, so it made for a less nutty pesto. The other thing that was interesting was the texture of the almonds; they’re crunchier and tougher than the walnuts, making for a slightly chewier pesto. Not bad, just different. Next time, we might try a mix of walnuts and almonds, or perhaps even pecans. The variations never end when you’re scratchin’. Four stars.