I discovered pesto in 2000, when my best friend came back from her year abroad in Bologna armed with a mind-blowing new budget recipe: pesto and linguine. I’d never heard of pesto before, jarred or otherwise; my childhood knowledge of “Italian” food consisted primarily of Chef Boyardee and Pizza Hut, and, even after living in Austin for several years, the most sophisticated Italian dish my palate had encountered was the grilled shrimp fettuccine alfredo at Carraba’s.
But the summer of 2000 was the Season of Pesto. Once we realized we could buy it in jars on the “ethnic” aisle at H-E-B, and that, when coupled with a 50-cent bag of spaghetti, it made a satisfying, filling, and rather sophisticated meal, we were hooked. It was so much better than instant ramen.
This was around the time I first started to get interested in cooking. I quickly realized that the store-bought pesto was actually quite overpriced, so I started making my own, with basil, olive oil, parmesan, and pine nuts from the bulk section at Wheatsville Co-op. This DIY pesto was still pretty expensive, especially for a couple of college students, we but got a lot more bang for our buck, and the result, served fresh over al dente pasta (another new trick!) was irresistibly bright yet rich. I’ve been an obsessive consumer of the stuff ever since.
Over the years, I started to experiment with the ingredients. First, I added lemon juice. Then, I experimented with cilantro. Finally, I started playing around with the nuts. I’ve discovered that I really like pecan pesto, and this cilantro, almond and chile pesto is amazing.
Here’s my version of peanut pesto, which goes well with a traditional plate of pasta, as well as anything remotely Asian-inspired, owing to the sesame oil. I dare you not to get hooked on it!
1/2 cup toasted peanuts
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1-2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan, to taste
salt, to taste
1. Toast peanuts in a toaster oven or conventional oven. To do this, spread them out on a cookie sheet or foiled tray and bake at 325° for about ten minutes, stirring once, or until lightly toasted, but not deeply browned. Set aside to cool while preparing other ingredients.
2. In a food processor, mix peanuts and garlic. Add basil, sesame oil, olive oil, garlic, nutritional yeast, and salt, and blend further until pesto is evenly mixed and of a fine texture.
Set aside until ready to serve; refrigerates well.
Pictured above with Zucchini Fettuccine.