Saturday, July 25, 2009

Basil-Walnut Pesto

This year I tucked Lettuce Leaf Basil seeds into a large planter in a swath of sunshine on the front porch. Weeks later, I watched the seeds sprout and leaves form, and then one day, when my back was turned, bugs ate it down to stems. Good stuff, I guess. I formed a nice barrier of garlic powder around the planter and used some insect soap on the nubby stems. Then I took a few deep breaths — I didn't have more seeds to spare! — and waited.

A single leaf from my basil plant.

They were not kidding about the leaf size, and I picked about two cups of leaves from eight plants, no problem. Of course, I made my first pesto of the year with walnuts that I'd already toasted. I like to vary using pine nuts and walnuts to thicken my pestos, just for variety. They have a completely different taste. If you're a pesto lover and you haven't tried walnuts, consider it a must.

Basil-Walnut Pesto
Makes about a cup

2 cups basil leaves (no stems)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup walnuts (I like them toasted first, but plain is fine)
1 clove garlic, optional
squeeze of lemon juice, about 1 tsp
1/2 cup EVOO
1/4-1/2 tsp salt + pepper, to taste

In a food processor*, whiz the basil leaves to a green mush and then add the walnuts, parmesan and garlic, if using. Process until it's all finely ground, using a spatula to wipe the edges clear. Add the oil by streaming it in through the top while the processor is running, until the mixture is loose but well combined. Add a 1/4 tsp of salt plus a good dash of pepper and whiz a few more times. Taste the pesto, and add more seasoning if necessary. It's ready to eat when you are.

If you're going to store the pesto in the refrigerator, a small drizzle of oil over the top will keep it from browning. You can also freeze portions of pesto in ice cube trays and store in a plastic bag until you need them.

*If you need to use a blender, you'll have to puree all the ingredients together at once. You'll have to scrape the sides several times and possibly add a bit more oil to get everything to come together.

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