Pesto is one of those things that I always thought was super fancy. As in, you’re super fancy if you know how to make it. Before I got really into cooking, I had no idea how it was made. I assumed it was one of those unreachable foodie things that normal people don’t make at home, like mayonnaise or sandwich bread.
Sure, pesto can be fancy. My first time eating at The Domenica (go there! eat all the things!) we ordered this date and walnut pesto with fresh ricotta and garlic buttered toasts and it changed me. This is what eating is all about! was my thought after tasting it. It was decadent and delicious and I felt fancy and like a super adult after eating it (I know, calm down). I’ve since tried several times to make it at home, and I can’t quite seem to get there. It remains out of my reach, for now.
However, this pesto is not like that. Sure, its delicious, and in my opinion, my best basil to nut to cheese ratio yet. It’s easy and not complicated, but that doesn’t make it less tasty. But it’s so easy that learning to make this pesto at home might actually change you, a little.
This is the first year I’ve had a successfully functional herb garden, and the basil I used in these photos came from our yard. The sweet, delicious smell of fresh basil is one of my favorite things about the hot summer months. It’s also really easy to grow! If you have an empty pot and a spare front step, it’s worth your time, if only to get basil to make pesto with.
Simple, barely life changing, walnut pesto:
2 cups, packed, fresh basil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2/3 cup of walnuts*, toasted
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of fresh cracked black pepper
5-8 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (you might need more)
*Note: traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts, instead of walnuts. Pine nuts are great and all, but they’re out of control expensive and that kind of price doesn’t fit into the reality of my food life right now. So we use walnuts.
To toast your walnuts: preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts in an even layer on a cookie sheet and toast for about 7-10 minutes, or until fragrant and slightly browned. Removed from the cookie sheet and let cool. I usually make a bunch and store them in the pantry as a snack or to add to salads and oatmeal.
Chop the garlic and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor until finely ground. Add the rest of your ingredients, starting with 5 tablespoons of olive oil, and process until smooth. Add more olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a smooth, green paste.
This pesto is really delicious a number of ways: over the weekend I tossed it with pasta, shredded grilled chicken, chopped walnuts and olives and diced summer tomatoes and then preceded to stand over the sink and shovel it into my mouth, straight from the mixing bowl (see below). It’s also really great brushed on roasted potatoes, smeared over a biscuit and topped with a fried egg, or baked into savory breads like this one.