Pesto is so versatile, don’t you agree? You can use it as a spread on sandwiches, toss it with pasta, place a spoonful on a bowl of soup for added flavor and color, mix into salad dressings, turn it into a dip, use it as a sauce for pizza, and, well, you get the idea. There’s only one problem with pesto: the basil season isn’t long enough, which means months without fresh pesto.
Today, we’ll show you another way that you can make a pesto without basil. Not that this is the first non-basil pesto recipe we’ve posted; we just like you give you options for your scratchin’ pleasure. Oh, and this is based on a recipe in Classico e Moderno, by Michael White.
If you think Parmesan cheese comes in a green cylinder, you’re reading the wrong blog. Parmesan cheese is cheese, not cellulose (sawdust is cellulose), and we don’t need sawdust in our food, do we? If you didn’t know that, get a chunk from your local cheesemonger and taste the difference between cheese and sawdust. A less expensive but still mighty tasty option is to use Grana Padano — made using the same techniques as Parmesan, but in areas outside the Parma region. Extra-virgin olive oil is tricky because, like Parmesan, the label might claim that it’s the real deal, but, in fact, it’s not. Here’s a test to see if your olive oil is extra-virgin: taste a spoonful. Yep, straight. If it doesn’t have much flavor, it’s not extra-virgin. Extra-virgin olive oil tastes like the olives from which it was pressed. It might be grassy, peppery, and green-tasting. It might make you cough and sputter, or even make your eyes to water a bit. But it definitely has flavor, and that’s what you want for pesto. Flavor.
Procedure in detail:
Toast nuts. Place the walnuts in a small heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are, well, toasted, about 10 minutes. The walnuts will start to lose their skins, become a darker, golden, brown, and smell delicious. Watch them carefully during toasting or you’ll end up with a batch of burnt nuts, which means you’ll have to start over. Once toasted, remove from heat — if necessary, remove the nuts from the skillet to stop toasting — and let cool.
Process. Once the nuts are cool place them, along with the cheese and parsley, in the bowl of a food processor, and give it a few good pulses to chop and mix everything. It will look like coarse cornmeal mixed with green flecks.
Add oil. With the processor running, pour in the olive oil. We don’t tell you the exact amount, but pour in oil until everything comes together in a paste. If you like a thick paste, use less oil. If you want a spreadable pesto, more oil. It’s all up to you. We know, decisions, decisions.
Taste and season. Taste the pesto and add salt and pepper to taste, pulsing to combine. If this is your first time making pesto, start with a small amount of S&P, pulse, taste, and repeat as needed. That way, the pesto will be perfect for you, which is how all scratched food should be.
Pack and refrigerate. If you’re not using it immediately, pack the pesto into an airtight container and refrigerate. Use it within a day or two.
We made this up as a quick lunch of pesto spread on bread. We had fresh flat-leaved parsley from the CSA that we wanted to use, and everything else is a staple in the pantry, so this was a no-brainer. In making this, we thought we’d miss the basil that’s so often used in pesto; we were wrong. This is a full-bodied, lightly garlicky pesto that you should keep in mind for those times when you can’t get basil leaves, but still need your pesto fix. It’s good enough that we’re thinking of making some fresh pasta this afternoon so we can have pasta tossed with pesto for dinner. Five stars.