walnut pesto, riviera dreams

16 Jul

A couple summers ago, I took a trip to the Cinque Terra in Liguria, Italy. I snapped this photo of Vernazza from the hiking trail that connects these five picturesque coastal towns. The castle tower in the distance was built to watch out for pirates (yaaaargh!). Just below the tower, I enjoyed a fantastic meal of frutti di mare and pesto lasagna at the restaurant with orange awnings.

Memories of that heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth pesto lasagna — infinite layers of handmade pasta, white sauce, cheeses, no tomatoes or meat — came rushing back after reading a recent Bittman article about Pra, Liguria’s famous basil-growing town.

Pesto is pesto, and it’s pretty difficult to botch up a handful of nuts, cheese, basil and oil. On the other hand, if you’ve had truly great pesto made with the best Italian-grown ingredients, you know it can be an utterly transcendent experience in shades of green.

Here in San Francisco, Farina is the hands-down pesto champ, but they don’t do a lasagna! Until my next trip to the Italian Rivera, I will continue to dream of pressing my fork greedily through a piece of fantastic pesto lasagna. In the meantime, I will take the basil California gives me.

walnut pesto
tasty but not like in Liguria… walnuts are a fine alternative to pine nuts when that’s what you’ve got

* 1/2 cup walnut halves
* 2 cups lightly packed basil leaves
* 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
* 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
*1 /2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
* Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are fragrant and lightly browned. Let cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse the walnuts with the basil and garlic until the walnuts are finely chopped. With the machine on, add the olive oil in a thin stream and process until the pesto is almost smooth. Add the cheese and pulse until just incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.

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