so, here’s a way in which i am a bit funny: i don’t particularly care for pesto on pasta but i really love pesto on bread, sandwiches, and pizza. totally makes sense, i know. my very scientific working theory is that it has to do with how much “dry stuff” (that’s a scientific term) there is to soak up all of the oil in the pesto and balance it out. pasta is not terribly “bready”, obviously, so the outsides get coated in pesto and there isn’t really anything to counterbalance it. bread/pizza on the other hand, has a lot more “dry stuff” going on, so the oil soaks in and makes everything taste good, rather than slip and slide around in my stomach.
now that i’ve put that appetizing thought in your mind, let me tell you how good this almond basil pesto is! it has lots of basil BUT it also has (roasted) almonds, a bit of cheese, and enough crushed red pepper and lemon so that you know this isn’t just your standard basil pesto. it has a brighter, dare i say almost more refreshing, flavor that adds a little zing to your sandwich, rather than just a one-note basil flavor.
a word about those “(roasted) almonds”: the original recipe i found called for leaving the almonds raw, which i did the first time i made this. i had recently had a similar pesto at a restaurant (over pasta, which tells you how good it was) though, and i remembered that pesto being better, more complex, than the one i made. so the next time i made this pesto, i roasted the almonds first to give them a bit more almond-y goodness and flavor. and it worked in terms of improving the flavor but i realized why the original recipe did not call for roasting the almonds: since the nuts brown, the resulting pesto is a little bit less vibrant green and a tiny – TINY – bit more muddy looking. definitely still green, just not crazy bright green like my first batch.
also, this is probably the first time in my 32 years that i have decreased the amount of garlic i used compared to what the recipe called for. i am usually notorious for deciding that “4 cloves” really means at least 6, and so forth. but it turns out that when they are raw, 3 cloves is plenty. and if you still think that’s too strong, i bet you could temper them even further by mincing them and soaking them in the lemon juice for a few minutes before starting in on step 2 below.
as for what to do with this almond basil pesto, the possibilities are as wide open as they are for traditional pesto: i have a tasty open faced sandwich/appetizer recipe coming up for you, you could make little caprese appetizers on sliced french bread with slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella, you could churn out about 2,947 delicious pizzas with this pesto, dress up some chunky grilled vegetables, slather it on chicken, or, of course, put it on pasta. happy pesto-ing!
- 3 garlic cloves
- 5.5 oz. (170 g. / 1 cup) blanched almonds
- 2 oz. (60 g. / 1/2 cup) grated romano cheese
- 4 oz. (125 g. / 3 cups) chopped fresh basil
- 8 oz. (250 ml / 1 cup) olive oil
- 2 oz. (60 ml / 1/4 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- if you want to roast the almonds for more depth of flavor (but slightly less bright green finished product), preheat the over to 400° F. arrange the almonds on a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. bake for ~8 minutes, stirring and turning the almonds over halfway through the cooking time. the almonds are ready when they smell delicious and are light golden brown. set the almonds aside to cool for a few minutes before you combine them with the rest of the ingredients.
- put the garlic cloves in the food processor and pulse them a few times until they are chopped up.
- add the almonds and romano cheese and process for about a minute, until the almonds are finely ground. you may need to stop the processor partway through to scrape down the sides and around the edge at the bottom. don’t process the almonds so much that you begin to get almond butter.
- add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and run it for 1 – 2 minutes, until everything is smooth.
the pesto keeps for several days, tightly covered, in the refrigerator. to help prevent the basil from turning brown, top the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil before sealing it in an airtight container.
adapted from william-sonoma’s almond pesto