Basil Walnut Pesto
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.
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.)
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.
To begin, combine the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
Add the basil leaves, salt and pepper.
Process until finely chopped.
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.
Add the Parmesan cheese and process again.
That’s your pesto! Try it on pasta, potatoes, grilled meats, sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, or vegetable soup (coming soon!).
Basil Walnut Pesto
Makes about 1-1/4 cup
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
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.)