Perfect Pesto

We were both driving home from our separate jobs in our separate cars when we both heard the same story on NPR and both had the same thoughts about dinner tonight. With the abundance of fresh basil this time of year and the rising cost of pine nuts, on this evening's program they featured a recipe for Pistachio Pesto . It was presented by the author of an Italian cookbook, and even though we disagreed with her about basil (she says it's sweet when it's really a bitter) and olive oil (she says it's fruity when it's actually nutty), we trusted her on the whole pistachio as a substitute for pine nuts thing.

It's been a while since we have had pesto. I have had a long-standing prejudice against nuts that has been respected for about eight years now. But, after

my own personal cooking experience

with them a few months back, I was able to identify the root cause of my nut issue (the skin that clings to the nut after it has been shelled - disconcerting in its texture and bitter flavor), and the nut prohibition has been lifted. This is our first dinner featuring nuts since.

Your basic pesto is basil, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil. You could stop there if you wanted and still have something quite nice to toss with your pasta. Or you could go a little further and end up with something truly amazing.

Your first step is to cook that garlic. Mince it and brown it on the stovetop with minced onions. This will cut the bitterness and will release what natural sugars exist in these bulbs. Once they are translucent with golden edges, add some coarsely chopped nuts - for our dinner, we used pistachio, but you can also substitute macadamia nuts for a more mild nut flavor.

Let the nuts cook until heated through. Then, toss in the chopped basil, but also add some fresh oregano and parsley. These additional herbs will cut the bitter of the basil and bring out its sweeter notes. it will also boost the aroma and fresh flavor of your pesto.

Don't let the herbs cook too long before you pull it from the heat. Let it cool slightly, and the toss it with finely grated hard cheese - say, asiago or romano - and a dollop of a soft cheese like a mild goat cheese. Add some olive oil to help bind it together and it's ready for pasta.

Pesto pairs well with mild protein like chicken. Tonight, we roasted some chicken thighs and then topped them with uncured bacon and a little goat cheese. 

Served over

hand cut pasta

, this was pesto perfection. The pistachio was a little stronger than the traditional pine nuts, but was less bitter and really did work out very well in this application.