This nut free pesto is rich, creamy and simply wonderful! It is quick and easy to prepare, and uses a special ingredient!
A freshly made pesto sauce is simply delicious, and the aroma it creates in the kitchen is heavenly!
Pesto has its origins in Roman times, while the pesto we know today is originally from Genoa in Liguria.
Pesto Alla Genovese
Pesto Alla Genovese is a delicious uncooked sauce with concentrated flavours of basil, garlic and cheese, brought together with a mild olive oil. It is made with pine nuts which deliver a slight sweetness and creaminess. The classic recipe is now protected by the disciplinary consortium of Genovese Pesto.
The ingredients are blended together to create a wonderful depth of flavours. When mixed with warm pasta, the flavours absolutely bloom.
Different versions of pesto
Different versions of this well loved sauce have since developed around Italy and beyond. There are pesto recipes which replace pine nuts with other nuts such as almonds or walnuts, while store bought pesto often contains cashew nuts.
Pesto alla Siciliana, (Red pesto) is a Sicilian version of pesto made using tomatoes.
No nuts pesto
As we have a couple of nut allergy sufferers in the family, I was interested in making a nut free pesto without losing the sweet creaminess they give. I found Joe & The Juice have a nut free pesto sauce which works well in their sandwiches, so I thought I would try their version. For a delicious, nut free pesto, they replace pine nuts with banana! Yup!
I wasn’t able to get their recipe so I made my usual pesto with a tiny amount of banana so the flavour does not come through and compete with the other rich concentrated flavours. It actually lends a slightly sweet flavour and creamy texture, replicating the effect of pine nuts quite well.
This recipe is based on the original pesto from Genoa but replaces pine nuts with banana. Using banana is entirely optional and you can leave it out if you like, but its worth trying.
Pesto goes well with:
- potato gnocchi
- pasta with potatoes and green beans – Ligurian style
- tomatoes and mozzarella
- tomato sauce
- as a dip for veggies
- grilled chicken or fish
- spread in sandwiches
Best for blending: blender or pestle and mortar?
For pesto, a blender is convenient to grind the ingredients together if you are making a large amount or if you are short on time. Blend on a medium-low setting in short pulses, as a high setting/long pulses creates too much heat, turning the leaves black and losing flavour.
Pesto comes from the Italian pestare (to pound) and the traditional and preferred method of preparing pesto is to use a pestle and mortar. Although more time consuming than using a blender, you have more control over your ingredients to adjust quantities according to taste. The manual grinding process gives the pesto a more interesting uneven and satisfying texture which coats the food well. Pesto made this way also tastes creamier, has better colour and will stay fresh longer.
Which pestle and mortar is best for pesto?
Pestles and mortars come in a variety of different materials such as stone (marble, granite), ceramic, wood, metal (cast iron, copper), or terracotta.
In Italy, a marble mortar and wooden pestle are most popular for making pesto. The marble keeps the leaves cool, while a wooden pestle is not too heavy – perfect for crushing the delicate leaves to extract their oils, rather than pounding them to slime! The grinding releases the wonderful aromas of the garlic and the basil leaves.
Choose a mortar with a bowl large enough to accommodate enough leaves, and a pestle big and round to crush and blend the ingredients together.
Tips to prepare pesto
- Choose small, fresh, undamaged basil leaves. Rinse them in cool water, then wipe dry, taking care not to crush them.
- Crush the garlic with a just a pinch of salt (as the cheeses are salty).
- Grind the basil using light circular motions, pressing into the sides of the walls, cutting up the leaves and releasing the oils.
- Use a good quality, mild olive oil to bring together all the flavours and make a creamy sauce.
The result is a delicious, creamy pesto with rich, deep flavours!
Pesto will darken on exposure to air, so store it submerged under a thin layer of oil. Fresh pesto always has the best flavour, but will keep in an airtight container for a couple of weeks in the fridge. The banana (if using) reduces the amount of time it can be stored in the fridge.
The pesto (with or without banana) can also be frozen in ice cube trays and stored in zip-loc bags.
More Dips & Sauces recipes
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Nut Free Pesto
- 120 ml olive oil ½ cup
- 40 g basil 2 cups, small fresh leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan Reggiano cheese freshly grated
- 2 tablespoons Pecorino sardo cheese (aged) freshly grated
- sea salt to taste
- Wash the basil leaves taking care not to damage them, and wipe dry with a kitchen towel.
- Using a pestle and mortar, crush the garlic and salt to a paste.
- Add a few basil leaves at a time, grinding in a light, circular motion, till all the leaves have been cut to small bits and add the cheese.
- Stir in the oil and mix well till fully amalgamated. Serve immediately.
- If using a blender, blend the garlic and salt first, then add the leaves.
- Blend in short pulses, stopping to push down the leaves every so often, till it becomes a paste.
- Spoon out into a bowl/jar, and stir in the banana and cheeses, then mix in the oil.
- To serve with pasta, mix in a little of the starchy pasta water to combine it well.
- Fresh pesto always has the best flavour, but will keep in an airtight container for a day or two in the fridge.
- Pesto will darken on exposure to air, so make sure there is a layer of oil covering the pesto before sealing and storing in the fridge/freezer to prevent oxidation.
- Blend with 1 tablespoon banana for extra creaminess, but this will reduce the amount of time it can be stored in the fridge.
- Pesto can also be frozen in ice cube trays, and stored in ziploc bags.
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