Pesto is a classic Italian sauce that is easy to make and versatile in its uses. One of the most popular variations of this sauce is basil pesto, which is made from fresh basil leaves, garlic, nuts, cheese, and olive oil. I’ll let you in on how to make fresh basil pesto with walnuts and almonds at home, including tips on selecting the right ingredients, using the proper equipment, and storing the sauce for future use.
Basil Pesto Origin
Basil pesto originated in the Liguria region of Italy, where it’s still a beloved staple in the local cuisine. The word “pesto” comes from the Italian verb “pestare,” which means to pound or crush. Traditionally, basil pesto was made by grinding the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle, but today most of us use a food processor for convenience.
Selecting the Right Ingredients
The key to making delicious basil pesto is using fresh and high-quality ingredients. Here are some tips on selecting the right ingredients:
- Fresh Basil Leaves: The star ingredient of basil pesto is, of course, fresh basil leaves. Make sure to choose leaves that are bright green, plump, and free of any discolouration or wilting. Remove the leaves that have wilted. Also, you can also cut off the sections of those leaves that have dark tips.
- Garlic: Choose fresh garlic cloves that are firm and free of any soft spots or mould. You can adjust the amount of garlic to your taste preference, but 2-3 cloves usually suffice for a standard batch of pesto. If you want a milder garlic flavour, you can opt to use garlic confit.
- Nuts: Pine nuts are the traditional nut used in pesto, but you can also use other types of nuts as well. In this case, we’re making an almond and walnut basil pesto. You could also use brazil nuts or cashews. Make sure to toast the nuts lightly in the oven or dry skillet to bring out their natural oils and enhance their flavour.
- Cheese: Parmesan or pecorino cheese are the most commonly used cheese in basil pesto. My go-to is Grana Padano cheese, which is the perfect amount of pungent and salty. I always grate it finely using my favourite Microplane grater.
- Olive Oil: Use a good quality extra-virgin olive oil for your pesto. Good olive oil really makes a difference in mouthfeel and taste.
The classic ingredients for basil pesto are fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. However, there are many variations of this recipe. For example, some recipes use walnuts or almonds instead of pine nuts, and others add lemon juice for a brighter flavour, like mine. You can also experiment with different types of cheese, like Pecorino Romano or Asiago.
How to Make Fresh Basil Pesto
Now that you have selected the right ingredients, it’s time to make the pesto sauce. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:
- For this Almond and Walnut Basil Pesto, we’ll start by toasting the almonds and walnuts. This will make them extra nutty and toasty. Remember to properly cool them down before adding them to the basil. Basil is very sensitive to heat and will go black pretty quickly.
- Add all the ingredients to a food processor or blender. My personal favourite is a hand blender since it heats up the leaves less. Remember that any source of slight heat will make the basil leaves go black.
- Add more olive oil as needed to achieve the texture you like. Don’t forget to taste it and adjust the seasoning.
- This recipe makes a lot and you can refrigerate it for up to 7 days in an airtight container. You want to flatten out your pesto and then add a layer of olive oil on top to cover and prevent it from oxidizing. You can also freeze pesto for up to 3 months. Add it straight to a pan when you want to use it.
How to Use Fresh Basil Pesto
Basil pesto is a versatile sauce that can be used in many different ways. Here are some ideas:
- Pasta: Toss cooked pasta with a few tablespoons of pesto for a quick and easy meal. Mix it with a bit of pasta water to fully integrate it into the pasta as it heats up in a pan.
- Sandwiches: Use pesto as a spread for sandwiches, burgers, or wraps.
- Pizza: Use pesto as a base sauce for pizza instead of tomato sauce.
- Salad Dressing: Mix pesto with some vinegar or lemon juice to make a flavorful salad dressing.
Basil Pesto with Almonds and Walnuts
Even though pine nuts are typically used for pesto, many times they are unavailable or overly expensive. Hence, making a basil pesto with almonds and walnuts makes sense. They are sweeter than pine nuts, so the sauce becomes richer and more interesting in flavour. Toasting them also adds another layer of complexity and makes for a delicious preparation. It’s also a great idea for gifting, I mean, who can even resist a bright and delicious basil pesto?
Almond and Walnut Basil Pesto Recipe
- 80 g basil leaves don't use dark ones and cut off dark parts of green leaves
- 80 g almonds
- 80 g walnuts
- 50 g Parmesan cheese
- 150 g olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ tsp lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Toast the almonds and walnuts in a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F for 5-10 minutes or until they look lightly toasted. You can also toast them in a pan over medium heat but it's less even. Let them cool down 100% before making the pesto because the smallest amount of heat makes the leaves go black.
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor or use an immersion blender instead. Process the ingredients until the pesto forms. Don't overdo it because, with friction, leaves also turn black. Add more olive oil if needed for the desired consistency.
- To use in pasta, add it to a pan with the cooked pasta and ¼ cup of pasta water. Mix to combine and heat up. Add more water if necessary and serve with parmesan cheese.