Other than a perfectly ripe peach, pesto is the food I turn to most throughout spring and summer. It’s fast, easy, cheap and versatile, so it’s no mystery why this Italian sauce has ingrained itself into American food culture.
Pesto was already popular, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it received a recent boost thanks to Samin Nosrat, the chef and author who highlighted it in the first episode of the Netflix series based on her popular book “Salt Fat Acid Heat.” Alas, not all of us can gently pound out a pesto in a mortar and pestle next to an authentic Italian nonna on a Ligurian hillside in the slanting afternoon sunlight.
A girl can dream, right?
Still, as beautiful and satisfying as a handmade pesto is, your food processor in your ordinarily lit kitchen can do the job - and do it well.
In searching for a recipe, I didn’t want to stray too far from the classic pesto, which is made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or pecorino cheese. I’ve never been the biggest pine nut fan, and unless you get a good source, what you find at your typical grocery store can leave something to be desired (and the metallic taste that affects some people after eating them).
Over the years, I’ve experimented with a variety of other nuts, including walnuts, pecans and probably hazelnuts. But never cashews, which is why this particular recipe caught my attention. As you would expect, the cashews lend a delightful creaminess and thickness that is, in my book, an acceptable departure from tradition. The texture makes this pesto great for so much more than pasta, including a sandwich spread, a dip (perhaps mixed with yogurt or ricotta), the base of a salad dressing or a coating for roasted, sauteed or grilled vegetables. Depending on what you’d like to use it for, thin with olive oil or water as needed. If you’re making pasta, hold on to some of the starchy water you boiled it in.
This is a pretty garlic-forward recipe, so you can decrease the number of cloves if you’re especially sensitive to the raw stuff. We also liked the brightness imparted by a generous squeeze of lemon juice, which tempered the richer cashews beautifully.
You might say we went nuts for it, and you’d be right.
Makes 2 cups
Cashews give this pesto a rich creaminess. The recipe can be doubled easily.
This is good for pasta, of course, and also as a last-minute stir-in for sauteed vegetables.
Make Ahead: The pesto can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 8 months.
6 medium cloves garlic
Generous pinch coarse kosher salt
About 5 ounces basil leaves (4 cups)
About 5 ounces (1 cup) raw, unsalted cashews
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
1 generous tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more as needed
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
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Combine the garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle; mash to form a coarse paste. Alternately, process the garlic and salt in a food processor until the garlic is finely chopped.
Rinse the basil leaves well, transferring them to a food processor without drying them; the extra moisture is needed for the mix. Add the cashews, sesame seeds, lemon juice, Parm and the garlic paste. Puree to achieve the desired consistency.
With the motor running, gradually add the oil to form an emulsified pesto. Taste, and add water (for consistency) or more salt, as needed. Transfer to a container; if you are not using the pesto right away, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on its surface before sealing and storing.
The nutritional analysis is based on a 1-tablespoon serving.
Nutrition | Calories: 100; Total Fat: 10 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 55 mg; Carbohydrates: 2 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 0 g; Protein: 2 g.
Source: Adapted from a recipe by Laura Genello