December 5th, 2011

Bestest Pesto

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Makes 2 cups
Time: 20 minutes

I guess the sauce that speaks to my heart and runs through my veins more than anything is pesto. I love it on sandwiches, in soups, on scrambled tofu and stir-fries. I would eat it in a house and I would eat it with a mouse. I would even eat it with Václav Klaus (the president of the Czech Republic, duh.)

And I don’t discriminate with ingredients for my pesto, either. So long as it’s fresh and green, it’s fair game. I like to use all manner of nuts- pistachios, cashews, brazil nuts, no one comes out alive.

But when I want to feel my Brooklyn roots, I go classic: basil, pine nuts, olive oil. Still, even those simple flavors aren’t safe from my whims. This is the recipe for exactly the pesto that I crave — classic ingredients with a few minor adjustments.

Half the pinenuts are replaced with walnuts; a combo which started out as a cost saving measure, but now I just prefer the flavor and texture. Of course I always toast ‘em first to bring out the flavor. I keep it mostly basil, but a little bit of cilantro brightens things up, and some thyme because I’m Isa and I love thyme.

A splash of lemon heightens the flavors and provides some tang, and just a little nooch gives some craeminess and cheeziness. I replace half of the oil in a traditional pesto with some water, and it’s none the worse for it. I actually prefer it this way because it’s not greasy.

Bestest Pesto

The pesto makes enough for a pound of pasta. You can, of course, serve it a million ways, but since this is Comfort Food Month on my blog, I’m going to share my favorite!

I’ve spoken about my love for Louise Hagler’s Tofu Cookery before. And so of course her Tofu Balls have a place on my ideal pasta comfort plate. I make sure to add an extra huge pinch of oregano to them to provide a little herbal flavor contrast with the pesto. And another love is roasted cauliflower. When roasted, cauliflower develops an amazingly complex and nutty flavor that reminds me a little of a campfire. Maybe a campfire on prescription painkillers. It’s really really good. To roast cauliflower: 425 F oven, big pieces of cauli tossed with a little olive oil, salt and fresh black pepper. Large rimmed baking sheet, roast for about 20 minutes, flipping once. Voila!

And so, yeah, there it is, my soul bared in the form of a pesto pasta. And I even plan on doing a post about homemade pasta soon if you feel like going totally overboard this winter.

1/4 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Fresh black pepper (to finish)

First toast the nuts. I will let you in on my secret hybrid nut toasting method. Preheat a large heavy bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-low heat. First toast the walnuts for about 5 minutes, tossing them often. Then add the pinenuts for an additional 5. They should turn a few shades darker and smell warm and toasty.

Transfer toasted nuts to a food processor. Add the garlic and pulse everything into fine crumbs. Add the basil, cilantro, thyme, salt, nutritional yeast and water and puree until relatively smooth, scraping down the sides at least once to make sure you get everything. Stream in the olive oil and blend until well combined. Last but not least, blend in the lemon juice.

I serve it over warm pasta (don’t rinse, it needs the starch to stick), and finish it off with some fresh black pepper.

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