Recipe: Basil Almond Pesto
Contributor Lisa Fielding is a private chef and boutique caterer based in Manhattan who weekends in Litchfield County whenever possible. Many of her Manhattan clients are also Litchfield County weekenders, so work brings her to Northwest Connecticut as well. A Los Angeles transplant, Fielding was a former Hollywood film executive who segued into screenwriting several years ago, which enabled her to pursue her passion for food and entertaining. Lisa’s culinary skill set draws from a broad spectrum of dishes and ingredients.
Pesto is one of my favorite sauces and I make it often. Plus, you can freeze it so if you’re lucky enough to plant and harvest basil all summer, you can make loads of it and save it for later. It is also a great hostess gift because who doesn’t love a fresh pesto presented in a mason jar with a bow tied around it?
As typical with me, I never make an ordinary pesto. I like to change up the use of pine nuts with roasted almonds or walnuts and add a little heat to the sauce with red chili flakes. For this recipe I used both smoked chili flakes and smoked pepper, which was a fabulous complement to the sweet garlicky green paste. I also used a combination of Asiago, Romano, and Parmesan, which added sharpness and made the flavor of the cheese stronger on the palate. The result was a thick, rich pesto that I tossed over tubes of ziti.
And for the record, a “pesto” can be made from any combination of greens, nuts, garlic and olive oil. I also make a combination of arugula and spinach pesto with roasted walnuts which hits the name notes of sweet and bitter as basil but with an entirely different flavor. Additionally if you want to lighten up your pesto pasta, saute cherry tomatoes split in half until wilted, then add the pesto sauce to warm. The sweet cherry tomatoes’ acidity is a bright flavor component and also looks gorgeous on the plate. So get excited for big bunches of basil with the following recipe. Buon Appetito!
Basil Almond Pesto
Yields 2 cups
½ cup whole almonds
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
4 cloves peeled garlic
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup grated Asiago
¼ cup grated Romano
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. smoked pepper
½ tsp. smoked chili flakes
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed
1. Roast almonds in a pan on the stovetop until they are browned and fragrant. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
2. Next, process in a food processor until finely ground.
3. Add garlic cloves and process until combined. Add basil and process until shredded.
4. Add cheese and process until the mixture is coarsely ground. Add spices and repeat.
5. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil. If pesto is too thick, add more olive oil.
6. Make your favorite pasta and toss with pesto to coat.