Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Best Pesto You've Ever Tasted (and Vegan, too!)

We are on our last leg of summer in Virginia, and it's time to gather up any remaining basil left in the garden.  There are so many things you can do to preserve it.  Dry it.  Puree it with some olive oil, put it in ice cube trays, freeze and then use later to flavor soups, stews, pasta sauce.  Or you could make pesto.

My favorite pesto recipe comes from a Sicilian cookbook I got years ago.  The reason it's my favorite is that it adds avocado for an amazing creaminess and richness that blows regular pesto away.  Seriously.  This time, I did a little experimenting and found that you don't even need to add parmesan cheese to it and it's still delicious! You will be tempted to skip the step of soaking the nuts. Don't. I switched that up, too, to make it go a little quicker. I also added a little lemon juice to help keep the bright green color and add a little zing.

This recipe makes quite a bit (about 2 cups) and it's so flavorful you don't need to use a ton for the flavor to come through.  The night I made it, I roasted some veggies (fennel, tomatoes and leeks) and tossed it with some pasta, but I still had some left over.  I spread it on sandwiches (turkey is a great pairing) and crackers (livens up a cup of soup).  It will keep in the fridge for about a week, but it might turn a little brown, given the avocado. Still tastes amazing, though!

Avocado Pesto

 1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
1 avocado (I used 1/3, because that's all I had, but it turned out fine)
3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh basil (loosely packed - and you can use some of the soft stems, but be sure to discard any hard, woody stems)
1/3 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup warm water (I use a little of the pasta water before I drain the pasta)

Boil about 2 cups of water (I used an electric kettle and set it to the "tea" setting, which gets it to 175 degrees F), let cool slightly (about 5 minutes), then pour over the almonds and walnuts and set aside.  Peel and pit the avocado.  Peel and chop the garlic. Put avocado, garlic, basil leaves, marjoram, lemon juice, olive oil and salt in the food processor.  Drain the nuts (they should have soaked at least 10 minutes), discard water.  Put the nuts in the food processor. Put the top on the processor and chop everything together, stopping to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl a couple of times.  When everything is chopped very fine, start adding the warm (pasta) water, a little at a time, through the feed tube.  Start with 1/3 cup, then if you need to add more to get a smooth sauce, then add a little more at a time.  This will not be a runny sauce. It will be a little more like a loose paste.

Toss with pasta, use it as a topping for fish or veggies.  Keeps in the refrigerator for about a week.

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