Sauces and dressings hold the power to elevate a ho-hum salad, soup or lack-luster chicken breast into a culinary delight. Pesto is one of my favorite delicious and versatile kitchen concoctions. Pesto is a packed with leafy greens, whether it’s herbs (basil, marjoram, Italian parsley, thyme, this is where you can get super creative), greens (kale, spinach, arugula…), even carrot tops or beet greens. These days there is almost always a jar or two of pesto in the refrigerator, it’s easy to make and is a delicious, healthful addition to most meals.
Start with the best and freshest ingredients you can find. This time around, I’m going traditional with 2 beautiful bunches of fresh basil.
I don’t use cheese or pine nuts in my pesto, so to get creaminess I use a generous helping of whatever nut I think will compliment my chosen herb. In this case, it’s basil, the distinct flavor goes great with the medium strength flavor of almonds. I do recommend using raw, then soaking your almonds the night before. Walnuts or pecans would also work. I will use Brazil nuts when I want a more mild nut that won’t compete (flavor-wise) with a bolder or more unusual herb/green.
Acidity is a must in pesto, with this basil pesto I chose to go traditional on this part too, lemon. I use a bit of the lemon zest, then squeeze the juice. Lime works great too, or even vinegar, just keep in mind how each flavor will work with each other flavor. Lime juice makes the pest0 more exotic, vinegar makes the final sauce a little sharper.
As for the order of adding ingredients to the food processor, I start with my nuts, garlic, zest, and salt. I pulse this a few times till it’s a coarse meal, then add the herbs. Pulse it a few more times, squeeze the lemon, pulse it a few more times. Then add in my oil, and finish the mixing process.
When the pesto is the consistency I want, I’ll jar it up and add a thin layer of oil to the top, this keeps the exposed part of the pesto from oxidizing (turning brown).
RECIPE: makes about 1 1/2 cups
2 bunches Basil (about 6 cups)
1/2 cup Almonds (measure then soak at least 6 hours)
1 Lemon (zest and juice)
2 cloves Garlic
1 tsp Salt
*3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Add Almonds, Lemon Zest, Garlic, and Salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10 or so times, until you have a coarse meal texture. Add your Basil to the food processor, pulse a few times to start incorporating the basil. If the basil is not mixed in and chopped up at this point, it’s ok. Now add your Lemon Juice, pulse a few more times. Now pour in the Olive Oil. Turn the processor on and let it run till your pesto is a consistency you like. You may have to stop your processor and scrape down the sides once or twice. When you are happy with the consistency, taste your pesto, and adjust the flavors as needed, I like mine a little more acidic, so I will often add more lemon.
*Adjust the amount of oil according to what you want to do with your pesto; if you will be eating it as a spread, use only 1/2 cup oil, if it’s going to be a thin sauce or a dressing, you can add 1 cup or more.