The days are getting shorter, and the evening air now has a distinct chill to it that can only mean one thing: Fall is here! It’s fun to think about cooking with autumn harvest ingredients such as pumpkin, squash, and apple, but I’m not quite ready to let go of summer just yet.
Walking through our Nordic Ware community garden last week, I couldn’t help but notice how perfect the basil plants were looking in everyone’s plots. I made a split-second decision to snip a sprig or two from everyone’s plots and take them home to make a batch of pesto for sharing. Someone had to do it! This summer, we grew three types of basil in our gardens: Thai basil, traditional Genovese (sweet) Basil, and Lettuce Leaf basil, which tastes like sweet basil but has oversized crinkly leaves. The two latter types are ideal for making pesto, and we grew a LOT of both.
Pesto tastes best when you remove ALL of the stems off of your basil leaves. My process for doing this is to fill my kitchen sink with cold water, snip the leaves off with a scissors one by one (yes, this is perhaps a little crazy but it works!), swirl them around to clean them off, and finally I dry them in a salad spinner.I happen to like fresh lemon zest added to basil, as it gives it a fresh, springtime-y taste, so you will see it in my recipe below.
There’s intense debate between pesto purists as to whether or not you should use walnuts vs. pine nuts, and also with parmesan vs. pecorino cheese. And then there’s my school of culinary thought, which says, “Why not experiment and just add a little of each so the flavors mix?” So that’s what you’ll find below.
You can see by my photos that I slightly overloaded my small-size Vitamix container while making this. Truth be told, I attempted to cut a culinary corner (should have known better!) and make a double batch all at once. So what you see here is a doubling of the recipe below. Do not attempt a double batch unless you’re using a normal 64 oz or larger container! My favorite way to enjoy this homemade pesto sauce is to toss a generous amount of it with lightly sautéed ‘zoodles’ (zucchini spirals) and throw some oven-roasted cherry tomatoes over the top. This truly captures the essence of summer flavors at their peak!
Lemon Walnut Pesto Recipe
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pine nuts
8 cloves garlic
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
5 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves, washed thoroughly
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups mild-tasting olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
Place both types of nuts plus garlic into a Vitamix or similar type blender. (I used my “dry” container on my Vitamix, but wet or dry will work) You can also use a food processor. Pulse mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Add basil, lemon zest, salt and pepper. With the blender running on medium speed, slowly add olive oil and blend until pesto is nicely pureed. If you prefer it to have some texture, process it for a shorter time, using short pulses of power. Finally, both cheeses, and blend to desired consistency. Enjoy immediately, or store in the freezer. Adding a thin layer of olive oil to the top of pesto will keep it looking green and fresh, though it tastes just as good even as it loses its nice spring green hue.