If there is a more delicious, versatile condiment than pesto, please let me know. And just in case you were looking for one more reason to plan a trip to Italy, this glorious sauce originated in Genoa, where sweet basil is still grown and shipped worldwide. Ancient Romans ate a dish of crushed cheese, garlic, and herbs; the basil, first domesticated in India, was added later. Ah, Italy – pasta, pizza, and now pesto? What else that begins with P will you think of next??
We visited friends living in Rome in 2009 when Genevieve was just over a year old. We call this her “supersonic shrieking” phase, and the open-air markets and shops of the city were perfect for drowning out her ear-piercing, high-pitched screams of joy or anger. Aside from the fresh pasta, gelato, and espresso available at every turn, I was seriously impressed by the shops in which you could bring in your own bottle and fill it from a variety of locally-pressed and infused olive oils. (I was a bit less impressed by the jars of baby food made from horse meat I saw in the market, but that’s another story.)
I think I’ve covered that pesto contains two of my favorite ingredients in the world: olive oil and basil. The pesto most of us are familiar with (I’m talking to you, Costco shoppers) contains pine nuts, basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and usually hard cheese, such as a Parmesan or Romano. Pesto is not so narrowly defined, however, and many of these ingredients can easily be swapped out for others. Allergic to pine nuts? No worries – you can use almonds or walnuts. You don’t have any basil on hand? Use kale or arugula. You happen to be vegan? Stop wringing your hands and get yourself some nutritional yeast.
I know what you’re thinking — “Nutritional what?? No thankyouverymuch.” Oh cook of little faith! Trust me – this is very yummy. You won’t even miss your fancy cheese, I promise. (And if you do, add in the Parm – life is meant to be savored, right?) 🙂
Presto: Easy Vegan Pesto (adapted from Food52)
- 1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts (both delicioso)
- 2+ cups sweet basil, rinsed, dried, packed (don’t skimp)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T. nutritional yeast
- sea salt and fresh pepper, to taste
- 1-2 T. lemon juice
1. If it’s the year 1299, or you’re so cool that I probably don’t know you, get out your mortar and pestle. For the rest of us, try to locate the food processor.
2. Place nuts, basil, and garlic in the processor. Mix until coarsely blended. While processor is running, pour in olive oil (aren’t you fancy!).
3. Add nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.
Makes about one cup and can keep for several days in the fridge – not that it will — because you’ll be eating it on your roasted cauliflower, veggies, pasta, baked tofu, and tomato/avocado/sweet onion sandwiches. Enjoy!