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 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.
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.
As we have a couple of nut allergy sufferers in the family, we came up with a substitution that works perfectly. For a delicious, nut free pesto, simply replace pine nuts with banana! The amount used is so small that the banana flavour does not come through with the other rich concentrated flavours. It actually lends a slightly sweet flavour and creamy texture, replicating the effect of pine nuts very well.
This recipe copies the original pesto from Genoa but replaces pine nuts with banana. The ingredients are blended together to create a wonderful depth of flavours. When mixed with warm pasta, the flavours absolutely bloom.
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. Just be careful not to blend on a high setting, or for too long, as this creates heat and the leaves will turn black and lose flavour.
The traditional and preferred method of preparing pesto is to use a pestle and mortar. Although more time consuming than using a blender, it allows you more control over your ingredients to adjust quantities according to taste. This 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 a better colour and lasts 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 day or two in the fridge. (The banana in here reduces the amount of time it can be stored in the fridge). It can also be frozen in ice cube trays and stored in zip-loc bags.
Nut Free Pesto
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 cups basil, small fresh leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1.5 tablespoons banana
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan Reggiano cheese, grated
- 2 tablespoons Pecorino Sardo cheese, grated (aged)
- 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. Mash in the banana and add the cheeses. 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.
Make sure there is a layer of oil covering the pesto before sealing and storing in the fridge/freezer to prevent oxidation.
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