Pesto is one of the most versatile things you can have on hand and can make so many different meals & our Walnut Basil Pesto is a super easy way to get massive flavour for very little effort.
The classic way to eat it is tossed with hot pasta but it’s delicious spread over some fish before roasting, added to a soup or baked potato, stirred into some fresh wilted & sautéed greens or simply eaten with a chunk of good bread. It’ll even make a great dressing if thinned with a touch more oil & lemon juice, whether for a salad or stirred into some fresh made ‘slaw. I can even eat a good pesto with lamb instead of a traditional salsa verde. Stir a spoon into mashed potato, spread on to ciabatta or flatbreads & warm in the oven – the possibilities are endless! It might surprise you to find out it is one of the easiest things to make too.
Traditionally it is made with pine nuts, basil, parmesan & some nice oil but we love tweaking with the classics to invent new ways of getting huge flavour either (a) less expensively or (b) using whatever we have on hand at the time. Pine nuts are expensive but substitute them for things like walnuts and you start to bring the cost down whilst keeping that nutty favour and texture. Basil is like spinach in a way: you can start off with handfuls of the stuff but by the time it is chopped it’ll have drastically reduced in volume, so this is an ideal recipe if you grow your own basil. Try not to substitute the parmesan – it’s a lot more affordable now and you can pick up a decent chunk for a couple of pounds in good supermarkets – but I have made it with some blue cheese at a push and it was still good.
I harvested a whole (big) basil plant for this recipe so started off with quite a bowl full which, when blitzed, filled a typical dessert bowl. I didn’t have time to prepare jars for keeping the excess, so I simply froze it in ramekin-sized quantities so I can easily defrost just enough for a meal. Some went into ice cube trays (then in food bags to stop ice burn) for even more convenience – a cube popped into a soup gives it a huge boost.
Ingredients (enough for 8-10 meals)
- a couple of big handfuls of fresh basil
- about 100g walnuts, toasted in a dry pan then left to cool
- 150-200ml rapeseed oil (I used 2/3 plain & 1/3 Sicilian Lemon oil but up to you)
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 75-100g finely grated parmesan
- juice of a small lemon & zest
- 1 anchovy fillet (optional)
- salt & pepper to taste
- add the walnuts, anchovy & garlic to a food processor & pulse for a few seconds until finely chopped
- add the basil leaves & pulse until these are finely chopped & incorporated into the nutty mixture
- drizzle in the oil whilst the motor is slowly running until loose enough
- scrape into a big bowl & stir in the parmesan, lemon juice & zest & stir well
- season to taste, loosening with a touch more oil if preferred
I tend to make it a touch more lemony at this stage because that will balance out when it goes onto food – but that’s it!
This should give you a pretty big bowl of the freshest pesto you’re ever likely to eat & you can tweak it to your taste by adding a finely chopped chilli or maybe even a few chopped capers for a texture & acidity. If you have some parsley – chuck it in too!
There are almost no rules, just get a nice balance of green herbs, nuts, parmesan & oil & you’re on to a winner! For the next batch we’ll replace the Sicilian Lemon oil with Chilli & Lemon oil for a touch of warmth but it’s totally up to you, just plain oil is good too!
It’ll keep in the fridge for a few days with a touch of oil covering it, or freeze it for year-round goodness.