Demo: Basil Pesto with Walnuts
Today I decided to make a fairly traditional basil pesto. Miskell’s local, organic basil is about the most beautiful basil I have ever seen. Large, lush bunches with enormous deep green leaves- almost too good to be true, especially at such a reasonable price. Organic walnuts from our bulk department make a terrific substitute for unavailable or high priced pine nuts. Personally, I prefer the earthiness of untoasted walnuts with the aromatic flavor of the basil. Laurel Hill Italian Olive Oil is on sale this month and it has a nice, light yet assertive, fruity taste. Organic Valley Parmesan was my choice of cheese to finish off this pesto. For a nice change of pace, try Vella California Dry Jack instead of the parmesan. Dry Jack is a fantastically nutty, smooth grating cheese that I highly recommend in any recipe calling for parmesan.
One of the nicest features of Miskell’s basil is the large leaf size; very easy to rinse and blot dry on a dish towel. Having dry basil leaves is very important, as any water will interfere with how the oil combines with the rest of the ingredients. The recipe is all done in a food processor and takes no time at all. Start out with a clove or two of garlic and salt, process to a fine texture, then add the basil, walnuts and parmesan, and chop well. This next step is a trick I learned from Nina, our food education coordinator. Add 1-2 tablespoons of flavorless oil such as grapeseed or canola to the mixture and pulse a few times until it forms a paste. Then empty into a bowl and stir the olive oil in slowly until the pesto reaches the desired consistency. Nina said that doing this avoids bitterness that would result from processing the olive oil. I am not sure if this technique made all the difference or whether it was the superior quality of the basil, but I think this was the best pesto ever. Comments from customers and staff reinforced this idea. One other note- unless you are absolutely crazy about a garlicky pesto, I would use one medium-sized clove of garlic and not too much salt as the parmesan adds a good amount of saltiness. Going light on these two ingredients allows the freshness of the basil and olive oil, walnuts and parmesan to really stand out. Tastes like summer!
For the demo I served the pesto on slices of Healthy Living baguette. This was a nice, simple presentation that would be perfect for a party. Just remember that pesto does darken when exposed to air for too long so they would need to be put together shortly before serving. I love to spread pesto on fresh out of the oven foccacia along with chopped fresh tomato, or as a topping on steamed potatoes and green beans.
Basil Pesto with Walnuts
1/3 cup walnuts
2 ½ cup basil leaves
¼ tsp sea salt
1-2 cloves of garlic
2-4 TB grapeseed oil or other flavorless oil
½ to ¾ cups extra-virgin olive oil
½ to ¾ cups grated Parmesan
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Either toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and lightly golden or use the walnuts untoasted. Place garlic cloves and salt in the bowl of a food processor to finely chop. Add the basil leaves, walnuts and parmesan cheese and process until the mixture is chopped and blended. With the motor running, add just enough grapeseed oil (or other flavorless oil) through the feed tube to form a thick paste. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle olive oil over the pesto, stirring until the desired consistency is achieved. Season to taste with more salt, if needed, and a few grinds of black pepper.