One of the first dishes my Argentine/Italian grandmother showed me how to make, was Pesto. With her Piemonte background, she explained that the northern region of Italy traditionally uses locally grown walnuts in pesto. The south use pine nuts for the same reason.

Nowadays as pine nuts are so expensive, I lean towards more realistically priced nuts. I am not a fan of walnuts in pesto as their skins can impart a slightly bitter taste. Taking the skin off is not fun, so I experimented with other nuts and found almonds to be a great substitute. Removing their skins is more straightforward by blanching the nuts in boiling water and refreshing them in cold water. The skins should slip off easily. Otherwise, most supermarkets sell them skinned. Cashews work well too, so most of the time, I use both nuts in my pesto.

Pesto Genovese is the most traditional pesto sauce, as pesto originated in Genoa. The word pesto came from the Genoese word pestâ which means “to pound”, precisely how pesto is made by using a mortar & pestle, however in our modern kitchens, a food processor works wonders!

When preparing pesto, try to buy or harvest the best basil leaves. Any with spots or that are deformed shouldn’t be used. Also, invest in a good extra-virgin olive oil.

I try to have a jar of homemade pesto in the kitchen on a regular basis. It’s perfect in pasta dishes & gnocchi. Adding a spoonful into dips, salad dressing and butter really livens them up. Try spreading the pesto directly onto bread as a sandwich filling instead of mayonnaise or mustard. Toasted sandwiches with pesto (as mentioned in Gluten-Free Focaccia Sandwiches) are even better as the pesto oozes out its oil from the nuts and gives off a wonderful garlic-basil aroma.

Homemade Pesto

This recipe is enough for one jar

  • 100g mixture of almonds and cashews, whole & skinned
  • 40-60g fresh basil leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, whole
  • 150ml olive oil, extra-virgin
  • 20g Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)

Step by Step Instructions

1. Dry roast the nuts over medium heat, stirring often until slightly golden.

2. Allow to cool down. This is important as hot nuts can scorch the basil leaves and impart a bitter taste.

3. In the food processor, add the garlic cloves and basil leaves. Pulse a few times and scrape the mixture down from the sides.

4. Add the nuts and pulse a few times until crushed evenly into breadcrumb consistency.

5. Turn the food processor on to its lowest setting and slowly add the olive oil. The oil should be slightly floating on top of the pesto mixture. Otherwise, add a few more tablespoons to get to this appearance.
6. Add the lemon juice, cracked pepper and chilli flakes (optional).
7. Add the grated Parmesan cheese.
8. Taste and add either more lemon juice, black pepper or cheese if you feel it needs more.
9. Pour the pesto into a sterilised jar.
10. Pour a little extra olive oil on top of the pesto in the jar. This keeps it from drying out and turning brown.
11. Store in the fridge. Keeps for 2 weeks.

Try alternative pesto ingredients by adding fresh rocket/arugula leaves, sundried tomatoes or/and roasted red peppers.

FREEZER TIP: Pour pesto mixture into an ice cube tray. Once frozen, remove them and store them in a freezer bag for easy access and return them to the freezer. I use these frozen PESTO SHOTS as a convenient flavour addition to warm dishes like soups, casseroles and sauces.