Sage Advice for Cool Weather Pesto with Walnuts

pesto and gnocchi with walnuts

According to Mark Bittman: “Pesto, which means, “paste,” is usually associated with some combination of basil, garlic, Parmesan and pine nuts. But pesto can be made from any number of ingredients: walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, you name it. If you can blitz it in a food processor with olive oil, it can be pesto.”

Which is sage advice this time of year. Because quite frankly basil is only good enough to be the star ingredient in something as wonderful as pesto when it is grown, outside in the sun when the weather is hot.

I grow the stuff in pots on the patio. I get it going here in California in March. I impatiently and selectively trim a few precious leaves in the spring, not wanting to hinder the plants growth. When done right, by summer I have plenty of basil so my pestos can be whipped up in a flash and a whirl. I don’t mind heavy harvesting because basil pops back so quickly when it is in its prime.

Then fall rolls in and I start getting stingy again, thinking I can stretch the growing season. But it’s a fool’s errand. My basil is dying and will get black and slimy within the next few weeks. I need to man up, go out there and whack it all down in final blaze of pesto glory.

But I hesitate because I know that soon I’ll be stuck with store bought basil. Winter basil grown in a California greenhouse is acceptable as a garnish. I’ll even use it, with a light touch, to flavor certain foods in the winter. It’s kind of expensive and it’s kind of disappointing. Same with basil shipped in from God knows where. Actually, no not the same. Basil clipped and shipped has almost no flavor. If it did not add a nice green element to my photos I wouldn’t even buy it. Oh the things I do for this blog.

Which is why the words of Mark Bittman hover in my head. Because in California, sage is a perennial. It grows in my own yard year round, and I can blitz it in a food processor. Making sage my go to herb for cool weather pesto sauces.

pesto with gnocchi and walnutsSage Pesto with Walnuts serves 4

CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 1 c walnut halves or pieces
  • 1/2 c pine nuts
  • 2 clv garlic, peeled
  • 1 pn salt, to taste
  • 1/2 c flat leafed parsley, minced
  • 4 T fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Toss in walnuts and toast for approximately 4 minutes,  stirring occasionally. They should color slightly and become fragrant. Remove from heat and place them in a bowl.

Toss the pine nuts into the same skillet set over medium heat and repeat the process, though they will take about 2 minutes. When they are done place them in bowl with walnuts.

Add the whole garlic cloves to the same skillet, while it is still hot but off the heat. Let the garlic sit in the pan until cool. This will remove the slight bitter edge but keep the bold “raw” flavor of garlic.

Place garlic cloves in a food processor or blender with a pinch of salt, pulse about 4 or 5 times to roughly chop. Add parsley and sage, then process until smooth. Add nuts and pulse 4 or 5 times until chopped. Then drizzle in the olive oil with the machine running the whole time, until a desired consistency is achieved. You may not need all the oil.

The pesto may be covered and refrigerated up to three days, but is best used immediately.

Adapted from Martha Sewart Living

SERIOUS FUN FOOD

Greg Henry

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