Basil Walnut Pesto

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One of my favorite things about summer cooking is stepping out my back door to pick fresh herbs from my vegetable garden. It always amazes me how the tiny seedlings I impatiently wait for to sprout in May grow into more herbs than I can possibly use up in August.

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As you can see, my basil plants are two feet tall, which means it’s time to make pesto! (You can also see they need some attention — it’s best to pinch the flowers off to keep the leaves growing.)

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This is a classic recipe for Italian basil pesto. The only difference is that I use walnuts instead of more traditional pine nuts. This is because in recent years an increasing number of people (including myself) have fallen prey to a bizarre problem with pine nuts called Pine Mouth Syndrome — a bitter, metallic taste in the mouth that develops a day or two after eating pine nuts. It can last for weeks and make eating or drinking anything very unpleasant. Several food writers have written about it, and since it also happened to me, I thought it was worth mentioning. There is some evidence that the suspect nuts come from China but no one knows for sure. In any case, I’ve sworn off pine nuts for a while.

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To begin, combine the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

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Add the basil leaves, salt and pepper.

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Process until finely chopped.

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Then, with the food processor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Be sure to use good quality olive oil; it makes a big difference.

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Add the Parmesan cheese and process again.

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That’s your pesto! Try it on pasta, potatoes, grilled meats, sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, or vegetable soup (coming soon!).

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Basil Walnut Pesto
Printable Recipe

Makes about 1-1/4 cup

Ingredients

2 cups gently packed fresh basil leaves
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup walnuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Lucini

Directions

Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until coarsely chopped, about 10 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper and process until mixture resembles a paste, about 1 minute. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly blended. Add the Parmesan and process a minute more. Use pesto immediately or store in a tightly sealed jar or air-tight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil (this seals out the air and prevents the pesto from oxidizing, which would turn it an ugly brown color). It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. (If you’re planning on freezing it, omit the cheese and stir it in once you defrost it.)

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  • Danita

    This looks good. My husband loves walnuts. I’m still using pesto I froze last summer. I’ve never heard of pine mouth syndrome. It sounds awful. I do check to see where the pine nuts I purchase are from. We have some in our grocery that are from a local area in Texas. I checked one of the popular Italian brands and they are actually from China, which surprised me.

  • Marilyn Sullivan

    And walnuts are much cheaper than pine nuts anyway. Thanks for the recipe.

  • Patti

    I read that the problem with pine nuts was from the pine nuts from China, not the USA. You’ve got to be careful!

  • I also grow herbs and my basil was gorgeous this year! (live in Atlanta, GA) I have made about 5 quarts of pesto so far this summer. I also use walnuts instead of pine nuts, but it is mainly due to the difference in COST. A similar recipe was on The Barefoot Contessa on Food TV…so cheers to you and thanks for sharing!

  • Jenn

    Just got a bunch of purple basil from our CSA and wasn’t sure what to do with it so figured I would give this a try. Thanks!

  • Ashlynn Deal

    I value the article post.Much thanks again. Fantastic.

  • Donna Lee

    Hi, Just made your walnut pesto! Delicious. Really am going to enjoy this with veggies or pasta…can’t decide which.

    Donna

  • This looks good. This is one of my favorite thing. I love this! This is very easy to make and a great.

    How to make the perfect basil pesto?

  • Julie

    Heading out to plant my basil seeds right now, with this dish as an inspiration! Loved serving this, as you suggested, drizzled over the summer vegetable soup.

  • meredith Lovelss

    Walnuts were a great sub for pine nuts.

  • amy marantino

    a great idea. i never thought to sub walnuts for pignola nuts.

  • TJ

    Walnuts are a great sub. for pignoli. I’m going to have to try this!!

  • Carissa

    This turned out great, thank you for sharing.

  • Mike

    Pesto is one of my wife’s favorite flavors. This came out fantastic. We can’t wait to use it on different foods.

  • Renee H

    I never liked pesto, but this recipe has changed my mind. Even my boys will eat it over pasta. Wonderful recipe–thank you!!

  • Becca J

    Everyone should know about this tip. If you don’t plan to use all your pesto quickly, i.e. freezing it, blanching the basil leaves for about 30 seconds in boiling water will keep the pesto a vibrant green color. Before blending the pesto ingredients, blanch the basil leaves, take them out of the boiling water and run them under cool water to stop the cooking and then add to the food processor as the recipe directs. This really works and keeps pesto a nice fresh green color, even after freezing and defrosting.

  • Cherie

    Tried it since I love so many of your recipes, but must confess… I prefer using pine nuts to walnuts. Love to eat the pesta tossed with orzo… great, fast & easy side!

  • Lyle

    Thanks for your discription of how. Living in Phoenix AZ, its mid november, and this could be the last batch of the year. Several lessons have been learned, comments are welcomed. Full sun? This year some of my plants were in the pepper bed getting sun only till noon, they did better in the heavy heat, so I made them all morning sun only, until the temps dropped. I add hot peppers, and add sugar to balance the bitterness. Also use a variety of basils, including Thai, Greek, Lemon, and several varieties of Sweet. My freezer is full of pesto cubes. Being end of seaon, this time I will separate varieties.

  • Winston

    My local Wegman’s stopped carrying pine nuts in their bulk food aisle because of problems with their supply and cases of pine mouth syndrome being reported.

    I’m not a fan of walnuts, but I’ve used almonds and pistachios and it worked wonderfully. As Becca mentioned, blanching whatever greens then shocking them in ice water will keep the color vibrant for days in the fridge.

  • Jules

    Great idea,had it with pasta and chicken yummm!

  • Will try today! Looks fantastic.

  • Susan

    This was a great recipe, thanks! I have a pine nut allergy (oddly, the only nut I am allergic to and it is NOT fun!) but LOVE pesto and i really enjoyed this

  • Paula

    Made two big batches with my end of season basil; one with walnuts and one with pine nuts. I put the cooled pesto into ice cube trays. After they froze solid, I transferred the cubes into ziploc freezer bags. This makes them super easy to pull out and toss into a pan as needed.

  • Sarah Wersan

    Even without the metallic taste condition you describe, the price of pine nuts leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Thanks for the recipe.

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