I could gladly eat pesto every day, and my dad makes the best pesto Genovese I’ve tasted anywhere. That may be because for me his pesto immediately conjures up happy childhood memories of summers spent sneakily eating it from the jar. (He has a rule that it can be served with any pasta shape except for shells, because they just hold an indecent amount of pesto!)
I’m pretty loyal in my affections to pesto Genovese, and have spent most of my adult life trying to replicate his recipe exactly (it never ever tastes as good as his), but I’ve widened my pesto horizons in the last few years, and come to love walnut pesto, and pesto Calabrese (both of which are in my book, The Vegetarian Kitchen) and pesto Trapanese, which is amazing in the summer months when the tomatoes are really ripe and flavoursome.
I rarely have fresh basil in my house during winter, as I almost always forget about it until it’s way past its best – for some reason I have a blind spot for basil in my fridge. So today, with a hankering for pesto but no basil in the house, I grabbed a jar of sun dried tomatoes and tried my hand at a red pesto. This was entirely borne of what I had on hand, as after a brief look at other red pesto recipes online they all required basil still, and some called for anchovies, which is a hard no for me, so I made a version using what I had in my cupboards, and if I may say so myself, it was SO GOOD! Salty and garlicky, full of flavour, and a damn sight cheaper to make than its green counterpart, this will be one I go back to again and again.
Sun-dried tomato and walnut pesto
- 80g walnut halves, toasted until just browned (I do this in an oven at 180’c, but you could do them in a frying pan on the hob, if you pay close attention)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 85g vegetarian parmesan-style cheese (or the real deal if you’re not veggie)
- 70g sun-dried tomatoes (the ones in oil, not the completely dry ones)
- 140ml light olive oil (or a 50/50 mix of extra virgin olive oil and veg oil if you don’t have light olive oil)
- 1tbsp tomato puree
- 2-3 drops white wine vinegar (don’t skip this, it’s key – red wine vinegar will do if you don’t have white)
- Salt and black pepper
- Blitz everything except the oil and seasoning together in a food processor, then gradually pour the oil in through the opening in the lid. Taste and season with the salt and black pepper, then store in the fridge covered directly with cling film until you want to use it. It should keep for a week at least.
- When you come to serve it, loosen it up with a small ladleful of the starchy pasta cooking water*, then toss steaming hot, al dente pasta through it, making sure you’re generous with the pesto so it coats the pasta all over. Serve immediately, with a green salad and more grated cheese on top if you wish.
- (*don’t worry if it looks faintly like it’s split at this point, it all comes together again once the pasta goes in)