Other than a perfectly ripe peach, pesto is the food I turn to most throughout spring and summer. It’s fast, easy, cheap and versatile, so it’s no mystery why this Italian sauce has ingrained itself into American food culture.
Pesto was already popular, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it received a recent boost thanks to Samin Nosrat, the chef and author who highlighted it in the first episode of the Netflix series based on her popular book “Salt Fat Acid Heat.” Alas, not all of us can gently pound out a pesto in a mortar and pestle next to an authentic Italian nonna on a Ligurian hillside in the slanting afternoon sunlight.
Still, as beautiful and satisfying as a hand-made pesto is, your food processor can do the job – and do it well.
In searching for a recipe, I didn’t want to stray too far from the classic pesto, which is made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or pecorino cheese.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with a variety of other nuts, including walnuts, pecans and probably hazelnuts. But never cashews, which is why this particular recipe caught my attention. As you would expect, the cashews lend a delightful creaminess and thickness that is, in my book, an acceptable departure from tradition.
You might say we went nuts for it, and you’d be right.
Makes 2 cups
6 medium cloves garlic
Generous pinch coarse kosher salt
4 cups basil leaves
1 cup raw, unsalted cashews
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more as needed
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
Combine the garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle; mash to form a coarse paste. Alternately, process the garlic and salt in a food processor until the garlic is finely chopped.
Rinse the basil leaves well, transferring them to a food processor without drying them; the extra moisture is needed for the mix. Add the cashews, sesame seeds, lemon juice, Parm and the garlic paste. Purée to achieve the desired consistency.
With the motor running, gradually add the oil to form an emulsified pesto. Taste, and add water (for consistency) or more salt, as needed. Transfer to a container; if you are not using the pesto right away, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on its surface before sealing and storing.
PER 1-TABLESPOON SERVING: 100 calories; 10 g total fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 55 mg sodium; 2 g carbohydrates; 0 g dietary fiber; 0 g sugars; 2 g protein.