One of the simplest and most versatile savoury dishes to cook at home is pesto. You can use whatever herbs or greens you have in the fridge garden — basil, rocket or kale, for example — add some toasted nuts like almonds or pine nuts, and then blend in garlic, freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil and salt flakes to taste.
Pesto is made in only a few short minutes but it’s a great multi-tasker, forming the basis of lots of different dishes. You can eat it as a dip with biscuits and crudities or mix it through freshly cooked pasta. Alternatively, you can use pesto to marinade chicken thighs and breasts before barbecuing them or as a dipping sauce when you grill steak, fish or prawns. It’s also wonderful dolloped on top of vegetable soups just before serving so people can mix it in themselves.
A few notes on the ingredients for this dish:
- You can use whole natural or blanched almonds instead of slivered almonds but I like using slivered almonds because the surface to middle ratio is smaller so the almonds toast more evenly.
- You can skip the nut toasting step altogether if you’re in a hurry but I wouldn’t recommend it: toasting really brings out the flavour of the nuts.
- Do make sure your lemons are at room temperature so they’ll give you the maximum amount of juice possible. Alternatively, prick the halves with a fork a few times before juicing.
- Garlic varies in strength and flavour so try one clove of garlic first – if it’s not enough you could add another half to whole clove. Be aware that the garlic flavour will strengthen and deepen as the pesto comes together so err on the side of caution lest your pesto is spoiled by a too-strong, acrid garlic taste.
- I always use top quality salt flakes for dishes like this. Salt flakes are really a finishing salt – they’re completely wasted in stews and soups. But salt flakes perfect for dishes like this when the flavour of the salt really shines through.
- Use the best extra virgin olive oil you have at home for this dish. You can use cheaper olive oils for frying but you’ll really notice a good quality olive oil in this pesto.
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- 1 bunch fresh Italian basil, leaves only
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1-2 garlic cloves
- ⅓ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 1 teaspoon salt flakes
- Heat up a frypan and dry-fry almonds without any oil. Turn regularly until nicely browned and then set aside and leave to cool.
- Blend cooled almonds, basil, lemon, garlic, EVOO and salt in a food processor.
- Taste and then adjust seasoning as required.
- Use immediately or cover and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.