I’m fortunate to have a ton of basil right now from my windowsill garden. What better way to use it than to make pesto? I didn’t have pine nuts on hand, and I was out of walnuts– the classic substitution. I did have a whole bunch of mixed nuts, which are about half peanuts, and then half of a mixture of cashews, brazil nuts, and almonds. I thought about how Thai food often uses peanuts and basil, and decided that they would do! The resulting pesto was surprisingly not very peanutty, but it did lend a “can’t put my finger on it” quality to the dip. A nice change from the classic. Enjoy it with pasta, noodles, or as a dip for bread or chips.
We usually think of pesto as being a mash of basil, olive oil and pine nuts, but “pesto” actually just refers to the classic process in which the dip/ sauce is made– with a mortar and pestle. Anything can be a base for a pesto if if is made this way– mint, sage, cilantro, etc. Now most people (including myself) use a food processor to make “pesto.” But, just as a bartender needs to crushes mint leaves to release their flavor for a mojito, a cook, even if using a food processor, should spend a little extra time crushing the basil leaves– either with a mortar and pestle, or by placing them in a bag and going over them with a rolling pin. It releases their flavor and really makes a difference. Never warm the sauce, as it causes it to break down. If serving over pasta, the warm noodles will bring up its temperature.
To emphasize the peanutty-flavor, you might try using all peanuts, or adding a bit of peanut butter in place of the olive oil. Lime in place of lemon would work well too, especially if you planned to serve it over Asian noodles.
- A large bunch of basil (about 2- 2 1/2 cups), rinsed
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup of olive oil (extra virgin)
- 1/2 cup mixed nuts
- 5-6 garlic cloves (or to taste), smashed and minced
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- (Optional) 1/4 cup freshly grated hard cheese, such as parmesan or romano (leave out to make vegan– you may want to add a few more nuts)
- Sea salt to taste (if the nuts you use are salted, you shouldn’t need much)
Gently crush the basil with some of the olive oil (about 1/4 cup) using a mortar and pestle. (Or, omit the oil and crush in a ziploc bag with a rolling pin. Transfer to a food processor fitted with the stainless steel blade. Add nuts and half the garlic garlic and pulse, while slowly adding olive oil, until mixture is coarse, but blended. Scrape mixture off the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and add remaining garlic (to taste), lemon juice, and cheese, if using, or additional nuts. Purée until it reaches your desired consistency. (I like mine thicker, with a slightly coarse texture.) Add additional olive oil as necessary, and sea salt to taste. Serve with bread as a dip, or over pasta.