Makes 2 cups
Time: 20 minutes
I guess the sauce that speaks to my heart and runs through my veins more than anything is pesto. I love it on sandwiches, in soups, on scrambled tofu and stir-fries. I would eat it in a house and I would eat it with a mouse. I would even eat it with Václav Klaus (the president of the Czech Republic, duh.)
And I don’t discriminate with ingredients for my pesto, either. So long as it’s fresh and green, it’s fair game. I like to use all manner of nuts- pistachios, cashews, brazil nuts, no one comes out alive.
But when I want to feel my Brooklyn roots, I go classic: basil, pine nuts, olive oil. Still, even those simple flavors aren’t safe from my whims. This is the recipe for exactly the pesto that I crave — classic ingredients with a few minor adjustments.
Half the pinenuts are replaced with walnuts; a combo which started out as a cost saving measure, but now I just prefer the flavor and texture. Of course I always toast ‘em first to bring out the flavor. I keep it mostly basil, but a little bit of cilantro brightens things up, and some thyme because I’m Isa and I love thyme.
A splash of lemon heightens the flavors and provides some tang, and just a little nooch gives some craeminess and cheeziness. I replace half of the oil in a traditional pesto with some water, and it’s none the worse for it. I actually prefer it this way because it’s not greasy.
The pesto makes enough for a pound of pasta. You can, of course, serve it a million ways, but since this is Comfort Food Month on my blog, I’m going to share my favorite!
I’ve spoken about my love for Louise Hagler’s Tofu Cookery before. And so of course her Tofu Balls have a place on my ideal pasta comfort plate. I make sure to add an extra huge pinch of oregano to them to provide a little herbal flavor contrast with the pesto. And another love is roasted cauliflower. When roasted, cauliflower develops an amazingly complex and nutty flavor that reminds me a little of a campfire. Maybe a campfire on prescription painkillers. It’s really really good. To roast cauliflower: 425 F oven, big pieces of cauli tossed with a little olive oil, salt and fresh black pepper. Large rimmed baking sheet, roast for about 20 minutes, flipping once. Voila!
And so, yeah, there it is, my soul bared in the form of a pesto pasta. And I even plan on doing a post about homemade pasta soon if you feel like going totally overboard this winter.
1/4 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Fresh black pepper (to finish)
First toast the nuts. I will let you in on my secret hybrid nut toasting method. Preheat a large heavy bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-low heat. First toast the walnuts for about 5 minutes, tossing them often. Then add the pinenuts for an additional 5. They should turn a few shades darker and smell warm and toasty.
Transfer toasted nuts to a food processor. Add the garlic and pulse everything into fine crumbs. Add the basil, cilantro, thyme, salt, nutritional yeast and water and puree until relatively smooth, scraping down the sides at least once to make sure you get everything. Stream in the olive oil and blend until well combined. Last but not least, blend in the lemon juice.
I serve it over warm pasta (don’t rinse, it needs the starch to stick), and finish it off with some fresh black pepper.
JESUS MOTHER OF GOOD LORD ALMIGHTY WOMAN THIS! IS! AMAAAAAAZE OVARIES!!!!
I just made it, kept triple checking because I couldn’t believe how EASY it was – and my mind is in splatter decor all over my kitchen wall because it was BLOWN out after just one taste!
I honestly could weep – I am a very selfish vegan who eats this way because it makes my knees feel so much better but I feel tempted often to drop into a favourite restaurant and just “grab something” – but Isa, food like this, this pesto, it makes me wonder why I would ever put non-vegan food in my yum-hole ever again. I followed this recipe to the letter and just pulled myself away from standing over the pot where I was shovelling it in so I could say – THANK YOU!!!! Veg bless Lady! 🙂 xoxoxox
Haha, fun review, thanks!
I just made this pesto, but instead of the basil / cilantro I used baby kale. I also added red pepper flakes, since I add them to everything. It was soo delicious. Thank you for your amazing recipes Isa!!
I really don’t like cilantro. Any replacements? 🙂
I know this is 7 years too late for you, but maybe another person will see. My favorite substitute in pesto is carrot greens. I wait impatiently all winter for carrots and basil to come back in season at the farmer’s market.
Also, parsley is a good substitute.
Wow this recipe sounds awesome and great for vegans like myself with the nutritional yeast. I have some fresh basil in the fridge that needs to be used ASAP though I’m missing a couple of your other ingredients, I may try to adapt it so I can enjoy this delightful recipe. I wonder how some Italian parsley would taste in there, and maybe pecans instead of walnuts? well, only one way to find out 🙂 Thanks for the lovely write-up…
Basil is in season, and I thought it would be the perfect time to make some pesto!
I made this recipe twice now, and I think I must be doing something wrong, as I always end up with only 1 cup of pesto, not 2! No matter how tightly I pack the greens into my measuring cup, I always end up with less than the recipe says it makes.
I made it, tasted it, and wanted to eat it with a spoon
Can water and and pepper jack be omitted?
Isa, I just made this with spaghetti noodles, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms and asparagus…I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. Seriously this recipe, your Pad Thai and Breakfast Nachos – I could live on those three meals for the rest of my life. After 6 years of being vegan, these are my 3 favorite all time recipes. (LOVE the nirvana enchilada casserole too!) Thank you for making our lives so yummy!
Just prepared your bestest pesto and tossed it w/ pasta and several cups of roasted summer squash, garlic and plum tomatoes. Magnificently delish!
My garden is overgrown with thyme this year. The basil pesto I made was way too strong last year, so I was thinking of decreasing the basil and adding in parsley and maybe even mint (all of which are rampant in my garden, although the basil is only about 2 cups worth and I want to make 4 cups total. Most of the people in my family hate cilantro, so that one is out. Do you think this flavor combination will work?