Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Walnut Pesto

Family is great. My in-laws have a great big walnut tree.  When I told my father-in-law that I loved walnuts, he looked at me quizzically and said, "what do you do with them?" I started listing off: as a snack, in a salad, make a pie, add them to cookies or lasagna...  On their next visit to Vienna, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend came to visit and brought me a giant, Santa Claus red bag of walnuts. I didn't weigh it, but I think it was around 5-7 kilos of organic walnuts. So thanks to my father-in-law, I have more yummy, nutty, crunchy walnuts than I know what to do with.

Since then, I've been cooking away with walnuts. Below is an adaptation of a walnut pesto that appeared on 101 Cookbooks.   This is great because basil isn't exactly in season at the moment and my little potted basil is too little to provide enough for pesto.

Got some issues? Pent up aggression?   Shell some walnuts. You'll feel better I promise.

Lay them out on a baking sheet and toast them.  With a clean towel, rub to remove most of the skin. I had a lot of trouble with this. It took forever.  Make certain your walnuts are well toasted, but not burnt.

Grind your walnuts in a food processor or mortar and pestle.

Add in the olive oil, herbs and cheese.  I don't know if my walnuts are a special oily version, but I used a lot less oil than the recipe called for and I still think it was a bit too much. Go slowly with the oil, mix often and stop when there's enough. As to the cheese, I used a vegetarian Parmesan and a Allgauer Bergkäse, a Swiss mountain cheese, you'll want a dry, slightly spicy cheese - Italian hard cheeses work well.

This pesto will keep, but not long if either M or I come by to visit. When you add it to the pasta, use the pasta cooking water to thin the pesto. 

Use a short pasta, one with lots of nooks and crannies. By the way, do you know your pasta shapes?  Here's a handy little quiz.

How many did you get right?  My score? 16 right.

Walnut Pesto Rigatoni, adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Notes: Add the olive oil a little bit at a time. It's easy to end up with too much oil.  For the fresh herbs, my suggestions are thyme and marjoram. Use a short noodle with lots of nooks & crannies.
Prep time: 20 min
Cooking time: 30-40 min
Servings: approx. 6-8

140g / 1 1/2 cup walnuts, shelled
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
115 - 160ml / 1/2 - 2/3 cup olive oil, extra-virgin & cold pressed
5-6 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped
30g / 1/2 cup vegetarian Parmesan, grated
10g / 3 tablespoons Allgauer Bergkäse (Swiss mountain cheese)
salt & pepper
450g / 1 pound whole-grain rigatoni
Preheat your oven to 350°F / 175°C.
Toast your walnuts by laying them on a baking sheet and toasting them in the oven until golden brown, approx. 8-10 minutes. Remove the skins by rubbing them, while still warm, with a clean kitchen towel.

Start heating a big pot of water for the pasta.

In a food processor or mortar and pestel, grind or pound the garlic and salt into a paste. Add the walnuts and continue to pound or grind. Then transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and add in the herbs and the cheese.  Finish by slowly adding the olive oil, mixing often, until the desired consistency.

To cook the pasta:
When the water is boiling, add a generous amount of salt and add the pasta all at once. Cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the pasta cooking water.
Do not rinse. Add the pesto to the pasta, mixing well and adding the cooking water to thin the sauce.

Leftover pesto can be kept in the fridge in a sealed container.
Other Walnut Pesto on the web:
© 2010 Nicole


  1. Looks really yummy and should make my doctor happy (walnuts = omega3). Can't wait to give it a try. BTW - I got 19 out of 24 on the quiz. Guess my Italian is a little rusty.

  2. 19 out of 24?! I've got to expand my noodle consumption. My score was a bit depressing. I'm on a mission now to try new shapes. When I do this pesto again, I'm thinking I might top the noodles with a bit of red pepper flakes. It was delicious, but was just missing that something extra.



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