John Ash’s Pistachio Basil Pesto

Maybe you’re lucky and have a big patch of basil growing in your backyard plot. Even if you don’t have fresh basil at your fingertips, here’s a recipe that’s worth a trip to your local farmers’ market or grocery store. Our friend John Ash has taken traditional basil pesto and created a particularly flavorful version by using pistachios instead of pine nuts. We tossed John’s pistachio basil pesto with fresh vermicelli pasta and quickly devoured it for dinner, along with a simple green salad and a good dry white wine.

John, a renowned California chef and culinary instructor, packs in the flavor by using three cups of basil instead of the two cups we ordinarily use to make pesto.

John also takes steps to prevent the basil from darkening, as it often can when you make pesto at home. John boils the basil very briefly and then plunges the leaves in ice water to set their bright green color.

We made this dish using our Miller’s Blend extra virgin olive oil. We wanted a little bit of pungency. Of course, any of our olive oils would be fine. We also used raw, unsalted pistachios to have more control over how much salt would go in the pesto.

And because the recipe calls for toasting the pistachios, we figured raw pistachios would be better than roasted ones.

Otherwise, this recipe is very much like a traditional pesto recipe. The basil and toasted pistachios are puréed in a food processor or blender along with garlic and a third of a cup of extra virgin olive oil. The pesto is transferred to a bowl where you add the cheese and more EVOO if you want a thinner sauce. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

We made a couple of tweaks to John’s recipe. We added a tablespoon or so of hot pasta water to the pesto to melt the cheese. We also skewered the garlic cloves and blanched them in boiling water for about 45 seconds to cut the garlic’s raw sting. And we topped our pasta with some more freshly grated cheese — in this case Parmesan.

This pesto has an appealingly spicy flavor. You could also spread it on grilled chicken breasts and fish such as salmon. Use it as a topping on a pizza. Or add a dollop to a bowl of soup.

And if you’re looking for yet another take on pesto or pistachios, have a look at food writer Mark Bittman’s asparagus pesto or a delicious EVOO ice cream made with pistachios.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch