Basil is the unofficial herb of summer – at least in our books. We love using basil pesto with pasta, roasted vegetables, or even as a salad dressing with an extra bit of olive oil. The recipe is so simple that it is almost impossible to get wrong. Here, we’ll make it two ways: in a food processor, and using a mortar and pestle.
For this pesto, a food processor does the heavy lifting. The garlic is slightly roasted on the stove top here, which gets rid of its bite and yields a much softer and sweeter flavor. Honey is the secret ingredient, but don’t let it weird you out – the sweetness perfectly offsets the savoriness of the pesto. The addition of spinach is great for sneaking more veggies into your kids’ diet, and ricotta really fills it out nicely. The result is a creamy, mellow pesto that’s not only great for picky eaters, but easy to whip up in a pinch. Enjoy!
Makes about 3 cups, or enough for one box of pasta
¼ cup walnuts
3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 cup fresh basil leaves
⅓ cup olive oil (adjust for desired consistency)
½ cup pecorino romano cheese
⅓ cup ricotta cheese
1 tsp honey
½ tsp salt, plus more to taste
black pepper to taste
2 cups fresh baby spinach
First, rinse the walnuts to get rid of their bitterness, and toast them in a non-stick frying pan on medium low heat for about 5 minutes or until fragrant. Get them out of the pan and throw in the unpeeled garlic cloves, toasting them for 6-9 minutes or until slightly browned. Set them aside to cool and then peel them. For easy peeling, use the flat side of a large knife to flatten the cloves, making their peels pop right off. Boom.
In a 4-cup food processor blend the walnuts, garlic, and basil with half of the olive oil until roughly combined. Then add the pecorino romano, ricotta, salt and pepper and process until it all comes together. Add more of the oil if it still looks too thick.
Next, add the spinach – it should completely fill the food processor before you blend it. After mixing in the spinach the pesto should be pretty thick, so add as much oil as you want until you get the texture you’re looking for. For pasta sauces, I tend to go for a thinner, oily pesto, but if using as a spread in a sandwich a thicker pesto will do the trick.
Add more salt and pepper to taste, and you’re done! When you mix this pesto into pasta it’s best for the pasta to be straight from the pot and still hot. Also, using a splash of the starchy pasta water in your bowl will go a long way to make the sauce extra rich and really coat every noodle. And of course a drizzle of olive oil and some more cheese to finish it off is always a great idea.
The pesto will keep up to 4 days in the fridge in an airtight container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil to lock in the freshness.
Rustic Smoky Pesto
Here, I’ve tried spicing it up a bit by smoking it up a bit. For this sauce, I have combined smoked salt and regular salt for seasoning. This particular sea salt is smoked over applewood – think crispy bacon for effect – it adds a new depth to an old classic. Go easy at first on the smoked salt, but add more if you want a kick.
Be patient with the mortar and pestle and it will give you the most aromatic pesto you’ve ever made. It will take some time – not unlike whipping cream – at first nothing will happen and then everything at once. The mortar and pestle I have is made of olivewood and it is quite a little gem – it’s on the smaller side so feel free to double or even triple the amounts I use here.
Rustic Smoky Pesto
Makes about 2 servings
1 cup chopped basil
1 clove of garlic, chopped
6-7 whole almonds or 1/8 cup sliced almonds
⅛ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
extra virgin olive oil
smoked sea salt
Toast almonds in a hot pan over medium-high heat for about 5 min or until toasty and fragrant (less time for sliced almonds). Set aside for later use.
To start, place garlic and olive oil in the mortar and add a touch of smoked salt and regular salt – this will help break up the garlic. Start grinding and pounding in circular motions until it emulsifies. Add almonds and grind into a gritty paste or until all almonds are crushed. Then, add the chopped basil and some extra olive oil and salt – start grinding again and add olive oil as needed to achieve a paste (about 10 min). Once the desired consistency is achieved – add the parmesan and gently mix together.
Use immediately, or if it is being saved for later – drizzle the container with olive oil, add pesto in and add another coating of olive oil on top to keep it fresh. Toss with pasta or add extra evoo to create a delicious salad dressing.