I first had basil pesto when Travis and I were traveling to Italy in 2006. It was our "can we be around each other for 2 weeks straight and not kill each other" trip, which I would say went pretty well, considering we got married. I had been to Italy a few years prior, with a fantastic group called CISV (won't go into detail here, but check it out, it's life-changingly amazing), and at the time I was more focused on hanging out with the people involved in the trip versus truly appreciating and learning about the beautiful country I was visiting- I was 14, after all. The second time, however, I was an adult and loved every minute of our time in Italy: all of the
I'm still not sure how or why I had never tried basil pesto prior to this trip, but I am so glad that I had it for the first time in Italy. The first bite was riveting- I think I literally stopped chewing as soon as the intense, bright flavors of the basil hit me and I subsequently had the same pasta dish at least 3 more times during our time there. Since then, I've been trying to recreate that intense punch of basil flavor, but have never been successful until I tried this recipe.
While basil pesto is usually very heavy from all of the oil and cheese, this recipe is lightened up by cutting back on both. It doesn't sacrifice in flavor since very fresh basil leaves are used, and it doesn't become dry like some lighter pestos can since I added in some low-sodium chicken stock. Honestly, I think the freshness of the basil is paramount to getting the flavor just right, but the combination of everything just takes the flavor to a whole new level. Having now cut back on some of the olive oil, I now am convinced that having too much heavy oil subdues the delicate flavors of the basil. Travis certainly approved, telling me with a mouth full of pasta, "Honey, this is awesome. It's like the flavor punched my tongue right in the face!"
Not sure what that means, but I'll take it!
My favorite use of this sauce is still with pasta, but it's also fantastic on roasted potatoes, grilled white fish like tilapia or sea bass, or even over grilled chicken.
Lighter Basil Pesto
A Butter Than Toast Original
makes 1 cup of sauce
2.5 cups basil leaves, packed
2 cloves garlic, minced (or about 1 teaspoon jarred crushed garlic)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
Kosher salt, to taste
Mix together the oil and stock in a cup, set aside. Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet (no oil) over medium heat, stirring until just fragrant, about 4 minutes. Be sure to not burn the walnuts or they will be very bitter.
In a food processor, place the basil, garlic, cheese, black pepper and walnuts in the bowl. Process continuously until a smooth paste forms. With the processor running, drizzle in the oil and stock mixture until evenly combined.
Taste, and add salt to taste. You might not need to add any-maybe just a pinch-due to the saltiness of the cheese and stock.
It might look a little thin at first, but as everything settles, it will thicken slightly. Toss a few tablespoons with cooked and drained pasta, serve with extra parmesan cheese.
Store the extra sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. As the sauce becomes more exposed to air, it will oxidize just a little bit.
**If you are harvesting a large batch of homegrown basil, or just got a bunch on sale and want to freeze it, just make it without the cheese and pour into ice cube trays. Once it's frozen, pop them out of the trays and store in ziplock bags, adding the cheese once it's thawed and ready to serve.