Pesto is one of our favorite "no-cook" sauces, meaning that there is no cooking required and once it's made, it's ready to use. In the past five years, we've shared a variety of pesto recipes, including traditional basil pesto, pistachio pesto and sun-dried tomato pesto, and this week I'm adding Arugula Walnut Pesto to that list.
Pesto originated in Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, Italy, and the word is derived from the Genoese verb "pestare," which means to crush or to pound. This is because the sauce is made using a mortar and pestle to grind the ingredients together to form a paste-like sauce, or pesto.
I love the versatility of pesto and how quick and easy it is to make, especially when you let a food processor do most of the work. This recipe can be easily doubled and made several days in advance of serving, or even frozen for later use.
The amount of oil can be adjusted depending on how you plan to use the pesto - less oil will create a thicker pesto, perfect for spreading, and more oil will create a lighter consistency ideal for a sauce or dressing. When freezing pesto, I prefer to make it thicker and then add oil once it thaws, as needed.
While you can make pesto out of just about anything, there are five key components that are essential for a pesto:
• An herb or leafy green as the main flavor ingredient: Basil is the traditional flavor, but other ingredients like arugula, mint, spinach, parsley, cilantro and even sun-dried tomatoes work great.
• Nuts: Pine nuts are traditional, but expensive, and you can use any oil-based nut, including walnuts, pistachios, almonds and even chestnuts.
• Cheese: Freshly grated Parmesan is our favorite, but other nutty varieties like Asiago and pecorino Romano also work well.
• Garlic: In clove form, never powdered.
• Extra-virgin olive oil: The olive oil is used for consistency and flavor, so find the very best quality you can afford.
For this pesto, I've used baby arugula greens which have a wonderful peppery tone and pleasing bitterness.
I've found that the sharpness of pine nuts tends to enhance this bitter quality, so I've chosen to use walnuts instead, as their buttery sweetness provides a great balance to the bitter greens. I toast the nuts first to enhance their flavor, but you could forego this step and simply use them raw.
I made this Arugula Walnut Pesto to serve atop crostini (an Italian word meaning "little toasts") topped with roasted tomatoes for a quick and easy appetizer. You can make your own crostini by cutting a loaf of good, crusty bread into rounds, then brushing each slice with olive oil followed by a sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. The crostini are baked in a 350-degree oven until golden brown and crispy, about seven to 10 minutes.
Summery and bright in both color and flavor, Arugula Walnut Pesto can be used as a spread on crostini, pizza and sandwiches, as a dip with crackers, or as a sauce with pasta, grilled meats and salads. Enjoy!
Arugula Walnut Pesto
Makes: about 1 cup
2 cups baby arugula (about 2.5 ounces)
½ cup walnuts, toasted
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, chopped
¾ to 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Optional flavor add-ins:
¼ cup fresh parsley, cilantro or basil, stems removed
½ to 1 whole serrano or jalapeno pepper, seeded
In a food processor, add the arugula, walnuts, cheese and garlic and pulse several times until the mixture becomes a coarse paste. Taste and add seasoning as desired, starting with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Turn the processor on and keep it running. Pour the olive oil through the food tube in a slow, steady stream, starting with ¾ cup and adding more if needed to reach desired consistency. Thicker consistency is best when used as a spread for crostini, sandwiches and pizza, while a looser consistency (more oil) is perfect for pasta, meat and salads.
Blend until the mixture is fully emulsified and smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate until needed, up to 1 week.
Pesto may also be frozen for up to 3 months, either in an ice cube tray for small portions, or in larger batches in an airtight container or plastic freezer bag.
To refrigerate, lightly coat the top of the pesto with olive or vegetable oil, then place plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent it from darkening.
Recipe can easily be doubled.
Recipe Time Capsule:
This week in...
• 2017: Asian Noodle Slaw
• 2016: Rhubarb Ice Cream
• 2013: Rhubarb Granita
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 13-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.