Presto, Pesto!

The days of summer are winding down and it makes me a little sad. The glorious produce we enjoy locally alone makes it one of my favorite seasons. Now that we are into the second week of September (when did that happen?) I know it’s only a matter of time before summer is a fond memory.

Minimum ingredients, maximum flavor!

Minimum ingredients, maximum flavor!

I live on the Central Coast of California and while it’s still plenty warm here, there are subtle changes and hints of things to come. The light is becoming more intense in the sky and earth, the summer haze cleared by the fall breezes. Summer berries are not as sweet, on their way out until next June. Soon they will be replaced by apples and fall pears, perfect for a cinnamon crumble or crisp.

Even my humble garden is ready for a rest. A few tomatoes remain on their withered vines; some basil, thyme and rosemary have stuck around to keep them company. Tomorrow my tomatoes and basil will leave their soil beds and be enjoyed over the next few days.

My basil, one last triumphal bunch, will make a perfect batch of pesto. Pesto is not an epiphany in the culinary world, I know this. But its vibrant flavor and versatile ways make me a big fan.

Pulsing Pesto

Pulsing Pesto

I don’t recommend buying ready made pesto in stores. I find their ratio of oil and cheese overbearing, they are usually heavy handed with the garlic too, and the basil is almost an after thought. And honestly? I’m not a huge fan of pine nuts, the traditional nut used in ready made pestos.

I prefer walnuts but you could use pecans, almonds or even macadamia nuts. Olive oil is fine, walnut oil is lovely too. Even the basil itself can be replaced with a different herb, cilantro or parsley for example. A food processor will make quick time of the following recipe and will make enough for several meals.

The last batch of pesto I made was enjoyed in a ‘farewell to summer’ salad; a few splashes of balsamic and the pesto gave tremendous body and flavor to last of the summer tomatoes. I stirred a couple of tablespoons into some ready made mayonnaise and had first rate turkey pesto sandwiches for lunch. And a box of store bought cheese ravioli was a quick and delightful supper when I tossed them together with the last of the pesto, 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and some grated parmesan cheese.

I’m already thinking about the next batch of pesto I will make and the dishes I can create with them.

Whatever I come up with, I know it will allow me less time in the kitchen and more time to enjoy the last few days of summer. Perhaps with a glass of wine, I will watch the sky soften, a gentle autumn hue on the horizon.

Basil Walnut Pesto

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

Makes 1/2 cup – This recipe can be doubled if desired.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of basil leaves, about 3 cups
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted and cooled
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, about 1 ounce
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Combine basil, walnuts, lemon zest, salt and pepper in food processor and process to a coarse mixture. Add olive oil and cheese. Pulse to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Transfer mixture to a ramekin or bowl. To store, top with olive oil to cover (this will prevent the pesto from blackening). Store wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator, up to 1 week.

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