Today, I am going to share with you all my recipe for Peanut Basil Pesto. This is pesto with a twist, a deviation from the traditional version, but every bit just as fragrant and flavourful.
What is Pesto?
Pesto is a kind of sauce of Italian origin, made using basil leaves. Basil is traditionally crushed in a mortar and pestle, along with garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and a hard cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino. The result is this free-flowing coarsely crushed sauce that is invitingly fresh and fragrant and absolutely delicious. I have also read about Italian families using a sickle-shaped chopper (called a ‘mezzaluna’) to make pesto, in place of the mortar and pestle.
Over time, as pesto love began to spread far and wide, many different variations emerged. Different herbs began to replace the basil, like coriander and parsley and mint. Other ingredients started replacing the pine nuts – almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, walnuts, etc.
Pesto goes beautifully in pasta and on pizza, in sandwiches and bruschetta, in salads and noodles. I love how multi-faceted it is, in terms of the ingredients that can go into it, as well as the variety of dishes it can go into. Just a little bit of pesto can add a whole new depth of flavour to a dish!
What goes into my Peanut Basil Pesto
Making pesto is the first thing most people think of when they can lay their hands on fresh basil, and that includes me. It is not very often that I get gorgeous, sweet-smelling basil leaves here in Bangalore, though that is fast changing with the advent of players like Deep Rooted, Atom A Day Fresh and Namdhari’s (not sponsored). More often than not, I end up making pesto with the basil, experimenting with the ingredients to find the flavour combination that works the best for my family and me. This Peanut Basil Pesto is the result of one such experiment – one that turned out hugely successful, a very delicious thing that became a fast favourite with everyone at home. Also, do check out the Basil And Pumpkin Seed Pesto that I had shared a while back.
Like I was saying earlier, this Peanut Basil Pesto is a spin on the traditional version. It is made with basil leaves, but with roasted peanuts taking the place of pinenuts (which are super expensive and not very easy to find in India). I have used an Indian not-very-expensive variety of cheese here (hard Cheddar). Along with the garlic cloves and extra virgin olive oil that goes into pesto traditionally, I have also used a green chilly and some lemon juice to spruce it up. I am not claiming this is an authentic recipe for pesto, but a sort of Indianised version that works well for me. I make it in a mixer, and not in a mortar and pestle as is done traditionally.
How to make Peanut Basil Pesto
Here is how I make it. The process is rather simple and takes hardly a few minutes to complete. However, it is a flavour bomb for sure, an absolute pleasure to the senses.
Ingredients (yields about 1 cup of pesto):
1. 2 tightly packed cups fresh Italian basil leaves
2. 1 cube of cheese
3. Salt to taste
4. 1/4 cup peanuts
5. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6. 1 green chilly or as per taste
7. 5-6 cloves of garlic
8. Juice of 1/2 lemon or as needed
1. Wash the basil thoroughly under running water. Place in a colander and let all the water drain out.
2. In the meantime, dry roast the peanuts in a heavy-bottomed pan on medium flame for 5-6 minutes or till they get crisp. They will start browning by this time and some of them will start cracking. Switch off gas at this stage. Transfer the roasted peanuts to a plate and allow them to cool down completely.
3. Peel the garlic cloves. Chop the green chilly roughly. Keep ready.
4. Take the washed and drained basil leaves in a mixer jar. Add in the garlic cloves and chopped green chilly. Chop the cheese cube into small pieces and add to the mixer jar too.
5. Add the roasted and cooled peanuts to the mixer jar, along with salt to taste.
6. Add in a little olive oil.
7. Add in the lemon juice.
8. Grind together for a couple of seconds, then stop the mixer. Scrape down the sides of the mixer jar, add some more olive oil, mix up the ingredients, then grind again for a couple of seconds. Repeat this process, adding olive oil little by little, and slowly grinding the ingredients to a slightly coarse texture. Your Peanut Basil Pesto is ready. Fill it up in a clean, air-tight, dry bottle and use as needed.
Tips & Tricks
1. Use very fresh basil leaves, for best results. I got mine from Deep Rooted, a Bangalore-based farm that delivers very fresh produce. I absolutely love ordering from them.
2. Use good-quality extra virgin olive oil and cheese for a great-tasting pesto. Use a hard variety of cheese, like Parmesan, otherwise the pesto will turn out lumpy. I have used Borges Extra Virgin Olive Oil and hard Cheddar cheese from Dlecta, here. I have used a small cube of cheese here, which I cut out of the large block I bought.
3. Be careful while adding in the salt. Remember that there is some salt content in the cheese as well.
4. Make sure the peanuts are roasted well before using them in the pesto. Take care to ensure that they do not burn.
5. The roasted peanuts should be completely cool before using them in making the pesto.
6. Adjust the quantity of green chillies and lemon juice as per personal taste preferences.
7. Store this Peanut Basil Pesto in a refrigerator, and remove using a clean and dry spoon only. You can use the pesto as needed in noodles, sandwiches, salads, bruschetta, pasta and the likes. When refrigerated and used hygienically, the pesto is best used within 3-4 days of making.
8. You can keep the Peanut Basil Pesto as coarse or smooth as you prefer. I keep it just slightly coarse.
9. Grind the pesto in intervals, as stated above, rather than at one go. This will result in a free-flowing pesto that is not lumpy.
10. With the pesto being exposed to air, it can turn a darker green in colour from the bright shade it is when freshly ground. This is perfectly normal, and the pesto can still be safely consumed, without any loss in fragrance or taste – unless there is noticeable odour to it, which means it has gone off and shouldn’t be consumed any more.
11. The above Peanut Basil Pesto recipe is completely vegetarian, but not vegetarian (plant-based) due to the use of cheese. I have not tried out a vegan version of this pesto, and I’m not sure how it works.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!