What is this, a food blog?!
I have been making a lot of pesto lately. Most of the items in my fridge right now are just vehicles for this pesto. I learned how to make it in Iowa City when I worked at The Motley Cow Cafe my last two years in college. I’m drumming up a PaperGirl mini-series on that experience. High-stakes drama, bodice-ripping, love triangles, salmon papillote — fascinating times. (Jeff, I remain ashamed about Charlottesville.)
Not long ago, Claus was coming over for dinner. I texted him to please pick up pine nuts because I was going to make my pesto and had forgotten that important ingredient. But the text was not received; Claus did not bring a single pine nut with him. I huffed and puffed; the man, much like me, never turns on his phone. I got my coat and went to get the dang nuts myself, when he said, “Let’s just eat something else.” No! Pesto! Then I realized I had walnuts in the pantry. Wasn’t walnut pesto a thing? I seemed to remember that it was.
It’s a thing, all right — and to my taste, walnut pesto is far superior to pine nut pesto. I’ll never go back. Pine nuts grind down almost to butter, while walnuts retain some body. Pesto is supposed to be a paste, sure, but walnuts lend a fantastic texture. That night, necessity was the mother of realization, and I’d like to share my excitement. This recipe is similar to my Cheesy Biscuits For All recipe, which is to say it’s rough — but I stand by it 100%. If you prefer a more precise recipe, may I show you something in life-altering chocolate cake?
*You’ll need a food processor to make this.*
A big thing of basil from the produce section of the grocery store
Olive oil (a lot)
A passel of raw, whole walnuts (make sure they’re not old — old nuts are so gross)
Decent-sized clove of garlic, if you like garlic
Parmesan cheese (a big hunk of it and don’t use the powdered stuff! Don’t even have that stuff in your fridge! Buy a hunk of Parmesan cheese for your fridge and grate it onto your food fresh! It’s such a small thing and it makes such a big difference in life! Got it? Okay, good!)
Cracked black pepper
NOTE: “But how many cups of walnuts is in a passel?? And how much cheese? What does “a lot” mean?? This is madness.” I don’t know the answers to your questions. Really, I don’t. But I don’t have to know, and neither do you. Just look at pictures of pesto. Think about how pesto tastes. Pesto is mostly nuts and basil, right? Right. And it’s oily. And it’s got a savory, almost onion-y flavor, and the tang of the Parmesan. Think on these things and then just go with your sense. It’s ratios. You’ll know what to do.
1. Fill a big bowl with water and float the basil in it. The dirt, sand, etc. will fall down to the bottom of the bowl. I don’t know if I have to do it this way, but when I wash basil in a colander, it gets depressed. Shake off water, blot with a paper towel.
2. In a pan on the stove, roast the nuts on a low heat. You don’t want to actually toast your walnuts, just “release the aroma” of them, as they say in Fancy Food Blogs That Don’t Know I Exist. Set aside. Don’t burn those nuts. Yuck.
3. Dice up those shallots. Same with garlic. Get olive oil in pan. Roast your shallots and garlic. People will come into the kitchen and ask you what you’re making. Say, “Go away. I’m doing something for the first time. I’ll let you know if it works out.” When the shallots and/or onion are translucent, set aside.
4. Pick stems off basil. Throw stems out, throw the leaves in a food processor. Put shallot and/or garlic mush in food processor, too. Dump in your walnuts.
5. Oh, I forgot to tell you: get that hunk of Parmesan and grate it. You can have too much Parm in your pesto, so don’t go overboard, here. And remember that Parm tastes salty, so when you add salt to your green sludge, go easy on it. You can’t unsalt.
6. Pour some olive oil into the food processor bowl with all the other stuff in there already. You’ll be surprised how much oil is in pesto. Because you don’t want crumbled green stuff; you want a paste. You want to spread this stuff on bread, or steak, or on someone’s face. Smooth. Almost creamy. So pour it in, baby.
7. Salt and pepper. See #5 for a word about salt. Now hit the button and watch the green sludge begin to blend and swirl.
8. Unlock the bowl, stick a finger in there. What do you think? Do you have nuts left? Do you need to put more in? Is it smooth enough? Is it amazing? Yeah! You did it! It’s tough to un-salt, and it’s hard to put more basil in your pesto if you’re out, and yeah, you might’ve put too much oil in this time but you can pour some of that off and with enough wine, no one will notice. But I bet you did pretty well your first time out!
9. Eat it.