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Recipes

№ 95 - Almond Pesto

A sweeter, delicate pesto for grilled vegetables, chicken or pork

Classic pesto alla genovese is made with pine nuts but you can substitute all kinds of nuts, even pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. In this recipe I use almonds, which result in a pesto that is just as fragrant and additctive as the original but more delicate and slightly sweeter. It goes particularly well with grilled summer squash or eggplant as well as grilled chicken or pork.

Pesto is ideally made in a mortar and pestle to achieve that wonderful crumbly texture and squeeze the last bit of basil-y goodness out of the leaves. In fact the word pesto is derived from the Genovese word for pounding or crushing. However, if you don't have a large mortar and pestle or you're in a hurry you can still make pesto in a blender or food processor and I include instructions for both methods.

If you're looking for a more robust and traditional pesto to serve with pasta, you can use this recipe but substitute pine nuts or walnuts for the almonds, double the amount of garlic and add another ¼ cup of olive oil.

Makes enough pesto to accompany grilled vegetables and meat for 4 people

1 cup picked basil leaves, moderately packed. From about 1 small bunch

½ garlic clove

¼ cup blanched (peeled) and slivered almonds

¼ cup grated Parmesan, loosely packed

¾ cup olive oil

Fine sea salt to taste

Equipment: Large mortar and pestle, or blender/food processor

 

Heat a small saucepan over medium-low heat and toast the almonds briefly until no more than light golden brown. Remove the almonds from the pan to stop them from browning. Peel and mince the garlic and grind to a paste with a pinch of salt in a mortar & pestle or in a small round cup with the back of a teaspoon.
 
Using a large mortar & pestle: 
 
Add the almonds to the garlic in the mortar and crush until all the nuts are broken up into small pieces but before the mixture turns into an smooth paste. Add the Parmesan and grind it into the nuts. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside. Chop the basil leaves and pound in the mortar and pestle until all the basil is completely crushed. Return the almond mixture to the mortar and combine with the basil. Pour in all of the olive oil except 1-2 Tbsp and grind it into the mixture. Add salt to taste - be careful not to oversalt to preserve the pesto's delicate sweetness. Transfer to a serving bowl and cover with the remaining olive oil to limit oxidization.
 
Using a blender or food processor:
 
Place crushed garlic, toasted almonds, Parmesan, basil leaves, a pinch of salt and a quarter of the olive oil in the blender or food processor. Blend briefly and incorporate the remaining olive oil other than 1-2 Tbsp in a few rounds while also adding more salt as needed. Be careful not to oversalt to preserve the pesto's delicate sweetness. Run the machine only as long as needed to achieve a reasonably even, crumbly texture but before the mixture becomes a smooth purée. Transfer to a serving bowl and cover with the remaining olive oil to limit oxidization.

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